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92 T253a 58~Q2Q2if $4.00 
Teaie s Edwin* ay^' 1899-' 

Btme boy; the early years of a 
naturalist* XUus. by Edward 
Shentoiu 'Lone oak ed Dodd $ 
Mead, 1957* 


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s " 

JUL 241975-^ I \ 

Lone Oak Edition 

Books By 












Tfie Early Fears of a Naturalist 


Illustrated by 

Lone Oak Edition 1957 


New York 

Copyright 1943 by EDWIN WAY TEALE 



Dedicated To 
My Grandparents 


With Gratitude 

Which Has Grown With 

The Years 







































Lone Oak Edition 



ACROSS the soot-stained and mossy roof of a low farm- 
house, a narrow streak angled upward like the thin trail 
of a garden slug. It started at the lower edge of the 
kitchen roof, where a melon-crate leaned against the 
side of the house, and extended to the ridgepole of the 
dwelling. The trail was the product of innumerable 
scuffings and clingings. At its far upper end, a small boy, 
bareheaded and clad in blue overalls, hugged the peak of 
the farmhouse and gazed into the north. 

The sun pressed its heat on his back; poured its heat 
on the ancient shingles around him. The smell of a pitchy 

' ' ' 


tanarack tree was strong in the air. Mud-dauber wasps 
droned past on blurring wings, going and coming in then- 
labors beneath the eaves. The countryside lay still in the 
heat of the midsummer morning. 

A mile and a half away, across woods and swamps, the 
boy could see hills of gold shining in the sun. They were 
the crests of the great Indiana dunes which lifted their 
mountains of wind-blown sand above the level of the 
Lake Michigan shore. High above him, sliding along the 
blue of the sky, a bald eagle soared in their direction. The 
boy, squinting upward, followed its flight. Lower down, 
and passing directly over the white-and-green farmhouse, 
a gray sandhill crane flapped by, riding on six-foot wings 
and trailing its awkward legs, rudder-like, behind it. 

The boy lay still in the sunshine. With his head on his 
hands, he watched the two great birds shrink in size. In 
his mind, he began to picture how the farm and the marsh 
and the distant dunes must appear to the eagle and the 
crane. His eyes again sought the far dunes. They rose 
like a shining, mysterious land of gold beyond the tree- 
tops. Hardly more than fifty miles from America's second- 
largest city, that stretch of lonely sandhills was a frag- 
ment of untamed wilderness. The boy had heard that 
wolves still howled among the snow-clad dunes on winter 

It was only in later years that he learned the history of 
this world beyond the treetops: how in a distant past 
bluffs had eroded into the waves on the western shore of 
Lake Michigan; how currents set up by the prevailing 


winds had carried the quartz grains to the southeastern 
tip of the lake where wind and wave and ice had forced 
them out onto the shore to create the almost fluid hills of 
the dune country. There, they formed a strange, tor- 
mented battleground where the wind and the root were 
ever at war the wind striving to move the sand along, 
the vegetation seeking to anchor it down. Sometimes the 
wind won and, year after year, a sand-mountain moved 
ponderously forward, engulfing, like a glacier of quartz, 
the plants, the bushes, and even the trees which lay in the 
path of its advance. Again, this tug-o'-war ended in tri- 
umph for the root and a wandering dune became sta- 
tionary, carpeted with green. 

If the boy had viewed these sandhills from the altitude 
of the eagle, they would have had the appearance of a 
curving chain of green and golden beads. If he had seen 
them from the winding sand-road which skirted the bor- 
dering swamp, instead of from his more distant rooftop, 
the great hills would have resembled stooping giants, fac- 
ing toward the east. Shaped by the prevailing wind from 
the northwest, their longer slopes were toward the west, 
their more abrupt descents toward the east. The dunes 
themselves, as well as the great blowouts and the small 
ribbed patterns on the beach sand, were autographs of 
the wind. But, to the boy, clinging to the rooftop in the 
hot sunshine, it was not the history of these sandhills 
which attracted him. It was the mystery of the far-away 
and the wildness of the dunes which stirred his imagina- 



It was thus, as the boy in the blue overalls, that I spent 
many hours during the long summer days of my earliest 

Always, just west of my rooftop perch, I could see the 
bulk of an immense white oak. It towered a hundred feet 
into the air. Standing by itself, it gave my grandfather's 
farm its name: Lone Oak. I used to look up and up along 
the sheer rise of its great bole. The oak seemed propped 
against the sky. On days when the upper branches stood 
out against a background of drifting clouds, the old tree 
sometimes appeared to be moving, swinging in an arc 
toward me. I remember that once the impression became 
so overpowering that I scrambled away in a panic down 
the roof -slope. 

The old farmhouse at Lone Oak stood at almost the 
exact physical center of the ninety-odd acres of marsh 
and woods and sandy soil which comprised my grand- 
father's farm. From my lookout I could see this farm 
spread out around me: the apple orchards; the rye fields; 
the asparagus patch; the red barn and the granary and 
the outbuildings; the straggling sand-road which ap- 
peared over a hill to the west, ran past the front gate of 
Lone Oak, and disappeared amid woods to the east; the 
swampy south pasture with its crisscrossing trails and its 
small elevated tract we called the Island; and, below the 
Island, the tracks of the Pere Marquette Railroad, run- 
ning east and west and forming the southern boundary 
of the farm. Beyond, away to the south across a wide 
valley of low-lying farms and marshland the blue hills 


of the Valparaiso moraine rose against the lighter blue 
of the summer sky. 

Inch by inch, I knew our farm. I knew its chip-laden 
woodyard where I collected kindling and gathered stove- 
wood for the kitchen range. I knew its vast mow where I 
jumped from beams into the hay, sending up multitudes 
of glinting motes of dust. I knew its ditches, their sides 
filled with the massed green of juicy spearmint. I knew 
its spring where horses drank from a mossy trough formed 
of a hollowed-out poplar log. I knew its north woods, a 
mysterious realm of little trails and piles of yellow sand 
dug from burrows, and its even more mysterious marsh- 
lands, with their stagnant waters, their tangled vegeta- 
tion, and their strange inhabitants. 

Compared with the black loam of the riverbottom or 
the productive acres of the prairie, Lone Oak Farm prob- 
ably was an unpromising tract. But to a boy, alive to the 
natural harvest of birds and animals and insects, it offered 
boundless returns. 

Life, during these early years, was divided into a kind 
of mental Arctic night and day. During winter months, I 
lived in a city, went to school, moved in a crepuscular and 
foreign realm. Summers, and at Christmas, Thanksgiving 
and Easter vacations, I covered the seventy miles which 
separated Joliet, Illinois, from this dune-country farm of 
my grandparents. 

That seventy miles seemed to carry me to the other 
side of the world. 

At Lone Oak there was room to explore and time for 



adventure. A new world opened up around me. During 
my formative years, from earliest childhood to the age of 
fifteen, I spent my most memorable months here, on the 
borderland of the dunes. 


THE earliest Lone Oak visit that I can recall occurred at 
Christmastime when I was four years old. I have a vague 
remembrance of climbing down from the train at Furness- 
ville; of the station lamps gleaming on the snow; of my 
grandfather, bundled in a fur coat until he resembled a 
great grizzly bear, holding high his lantern as he helped 
us into a low bob-sled while the horses stamped and 
jingled their sleigh-bells and sent out clouds of silver steam 
into the cold night air. 

At the farmhouse, a Christmas tree, brought in from the 
woods, caught my eye. It was trimmed with polished ap- 



pies, strings of popcorn, paper decorations and marsh- 
mallow fish. One of the latter, a four-inch pink fish dan- 
gling from one of the lower boughs, had a flavor which 
haunted me for years afterwards. To this day I have no 
idea what the flavor was. 

As I grew older I developed into a gangling, rather 
long-nosed boy with gray-brown eyes, a vivid imagina- 
tion, an extremely active but undisciplined mind, and a 
great love for the out-of-doors. My parents were sincere, 
hard-working, religious people. They tended to be con- 
ciliatory and gentle. The world, without doubt, would be 
a better place if all the people in it possessed their at- 
tributes. But, unfortunately, they do not. And the ones 
that do not invariably seem to prey upon the ones that do. 

At home I was trained for Heaven rather than for the 
world as it is. My father worked in the Michigan Cen- 
tral roundhouse and we lived near the railroad tracks on 
Washington Street. My associates were boys given to 
fisticuffs, I was taught that it is wrong to fight. Being tall 
for my age and peaceably inclined, I was the target for 
most of the bullying of the neighborhood. 

For years I worried a good deal over the fact that I 
didn't seem to have any temper. I could take a tremen- 
dous amount of punishment, refusing to give in. But rage 
and fury seemed to have been trained out of me. One day 
I overheard a neighbor woman discussing a boy with an 
ungovernable temper. 

"When he's mad," she said, 'Tie laughs instead of cries. 
And that is the sign of the most violent tempers of all!" 


I thought the next time I was jumped on, I would let 
out a blood-curdling laugh and frighten my opponent 
out of his wits. I even practiced in secret before a mirror, 
screwing up my face into terrifying contortions and rais- 
ing rny laugh to a higher and higher pitch. 

There was no long delay in finding an opportunity to 
try out the scheme. The very next time I was sent to the 
store my chief tormentor stepped out from an alley, 
brandishing his fists. I stood my ground and prepared to 
reveal my ungovernable temper by laughter. But, before 
I could open my mouth, I received a terrific wallop on 
the right eye and all thoughts of laughing deserted me. 

Besides the handicap of feeling I was doing something 
wicked if I fought back, I had the additional obstacle of 
a sublime faith in the spoken word. When my father 
or mother told me anything, I could bank on it. They 
wouldn't say it unless it was true. Consequently, when 
some blustering boyhood opponent would assert that he 
would flatten my nose out on my face, I thought it was 
as good as flattened. My unrestrained imagination would 
present a clear picture of my face without a nose. It was 
only in the course of time that I learned the ways of the 
world and practical modes of procedure. 

In those harried days of early grade-school I got along 
as best I could. I retired within myself and much of the 
time lived in a dream-world of my own making. In fifth 
grade a temporary attack of deafness added to my diffi- 
culties for more than half a year. Thus it was that the free- 
dom of Lone Oak made the place a sort of Never-Never- 



Land come true. I used to cross off the days on the cal- 
endar and count the number remaining before the next 
vacation when I would return again to the green pastures 
of that Indiana farm. 

Even as I lived them I had a feeling of the infinite pre- 
ciousness of those early days, a feeling of trying to hold 
back the clock and enjoy to the full each passing second. 
In later years I could always beguile tedious hours by re- 
living moments selected at random from this period of 
the past. Many times in distress or pain or discourage- 
ment, in dentist's chairs and operating rooms, I have di- 
verted my mind with thoughts of Lone Oak. How pro- 
found must have been the impressions of those sunrise 
days to have left a mark so lasting! 

My grandparents gave me all the freedom I needed. 
There was health for the mind as well as for the body at 
Lone Oak. I was, during that period, inclined to fits of 
sullenness. I was never permitted to talk back at home; 
to say "I won't" was unthinkable. My only outlet for 
willfullness was sulking. At Lone Oak the moodiness and 
sullenness, which might have become ingrained, were 
dissipated by the healthful outdoor activity and the free- 
dom from restraint. 

I had the feeling then, as each generation of boys un- 
doubtedly has and will have, that the generation before 
had seen all the great sights and that only minor occur- 
rences were left for me to witness. On summer evenings, 
beside a smudge fire which kept the mosquitoes at bay, 


my grandfather would tell me tales of the early days, the 
Indians, the wolves, the deer, the struggles of the pioneers. 
Immense stretches of land now devoted to corn and oats, 
melons and potatoes, had been covered with forest when 
he came west. The stories I heard from his lips on those 
summer evenings or when we rested in the shade from 
hoeing or as we jolted along the sand-roads on our way 
to town were like windows looking back into a glorious 
and adventurous past. 

But there was, in the dune country of my day, much to 
see and much to enjoy. I was out-of-doors from morning 
until night, running barefoot and in overalls, a straw-hat 
protecting me from the midday sun. Capable of tre- 
mendous enthusiasms, I was like a dog that has lost the 
scent darting first this way, then that. One day I would 
be head over heels in one activity, the next day just as ex- 
cited about another. Undoubtedly I led my grandparents 
a merry chase. They rarely knew what was coming next. 
One time they would discover me making a harness out 
of binding-twine for a baby calf; another time I would 
have plans all worked out for devoting the whole farm 
to cabbage and shipping trainloads to Chicago. I remem- 
ber how vividly I could see, in my mind's eye, a puffing 
locomotive and a long line of freight cars stretching away 
to the horizon and a banner on each carrying the sign: 
"Lone Oak Cabbages/' 

In William Butler Yeats* poetic play, The Land of 
Heart's Desire,, one of the characters observes: 



"For life moves out of a red flare of dreams 
Into a common light of common hours 
Until old age brings the red flare again." 

Thus it was that my grandparents seemed to understand, 
best of all, the world of dreams, of fantastic plans, of make- 
believe in which I spent so many hours. 

When we are young we know least of all how different 
we are, or how different from the norm are those around 
us. It takes perspective to see ourselves in relation to the 
world at large. It was only after many years had passed 
that I understood how strange a boy I must have been 
or how unusual were the two who were my closest sum- 
mer companions. As remarkable as the dune country it- 
self, as remarkable as the varied fields of the farm from 
which they had so long wrung a living were these two old 
people my grandparents, the Ways. 



WHEN memory began for me my grandfather was well 
past sixty a great, bearded man, six feet one inch tall, 
raw-boned and gnarled. His unruly thatch of hair, which 
remained with him until the time of his death at the age 
of eighty-five, was streaked with its earliest gray. He had 
black eyes and a straight nose which ended in a slightly 
flattened tip. Once he explained gravely to me that he got 
that flattened tip as a small child when he fell down and 
stepped on his nose. 

The laughing wrinkles which puckered the outer 
corners of his deep-set eyes were not accidental. They 



were the product o a kindly and humorous nature. The 
ax and the hoe and the pitchfork, the years of toil which 
had bowed his shoulders and enlarged the knuckles of 
his hands, had never dulled his sense of humor nor his 
love of a joke. 

"Edwin," he used to say, "run up t' th' house an' git me 
a drink o* water an' I'll give y' th' first silver dollar I find 
rollin* uphill!" 

As a teller of tales, stories of the frontier days and of 
his adventures in the Civil War, he was superlative. He 
had a gift for the colorful phrase, the humorous twist, the 
original observation. His voice was soft and of a remark- 
able timbre. Many of his stories centered in the doings 
of a mythical "Mr. Bump." His most preposterous tales 
always ended in the same manner: 

"That's th' way 't happened, so help me Thirty-Six!" 

Who, or what, Thirty-Six was nobody knew. 

Wherever he went "Gramp" as I always called him 
made friends without apparent effort. He had a genius 
for getting himself invited to dinner. Once, in the early 
days of hard sledding at Lone Oak, he was called to serve 
on the jury at Valparaiso. The best trousers he owned 
were worn out at the knees and Gram had to patch them 
with material of a different kind. In spite of the social 
handicap of patched trousers, Gramp on the day that 
the trial was over was invited to dine at the home of the 

I have before me a letter written home during the Civil 
War by one of his brothers. It says in part: "Ed's getting 


along fine. He goes out in the country and makes friends 
with the first citizen he comes to and stays to dinner." 
At the end of half an hour you felt you had known Gramp 
all your life. When my mother was a very small girl she 
once asked him: 

"How long were you and I here before Mother came?" 

That feeling that Gramp had been a friend from the 
beginning is one that can be best understood only by 
those who knew him. 

I early learned at Lone Oak that he had an aversion to 
giving orders. He hated to be bossed or bullied and he 
respected a similar sentiment in others. He tempered his 
orders so they sounded like suggestions. But the meaning 
was the same. 

One July morning, as he was leaving to cultivate the 
south cornfield, he said : 

"Edwin, y kin pick up th ? 'tatoes in th' west patch t'day 
ef youVe a mind tV 

Then he clucked to his horses and drove out of the 
barnyard. The day wore on and I didn't have a mind to 
pick up potatoes. Evening came and the tubers were still 
in the field. Gramp, dusty and tired, unhitched the team 
and led them down to the watering trough. I trailed be- 
hind to watch the frogs in the mossy depths of the well. 

"How many bushels o* 'tatoes was they?" Gramp in- 

"I don't know." 

"Well, how many did y pick up?" 

"I didn't pick up any." 



"Not any! Why in blazes not?" 

"Well, you said to pick them up if I had a mind to. You 
didn't say I had to." 

In the next few minutes I learned once and for all that 
when Gramp said I could if I had a mind to, it also meant 
that I had better have a mind to. 

Born in 1842 on a farm in Chemung County, in upstate 
New York, Gramp had been christened Edwin Franklin 
Way. His mother died when he was twelve years old and 
the family, consisting of his father, his two sisters, and 
two brothers, migrated west to Indiana. They settled in 
the dune country in 1854, the year that the Michigan 
Central Railroad reached Chicago. 

Until he was a soldier in the Civil War, Gramp never 
wrote a letter in his life. Then he had a comrade help him 
with the spelling. Even after one of his daughters was the 
wife of a college president, he still blithely ignored the 
dictates of Webster and the grammarians. So far as I 
know, he never knew how to make a capital I. He always 
referred to himself in the lower case. He never read a 
book until after he was married. Yet, although his formal 
education in frontier country schools ended almost before 
it began, he was a living refutation of that specious fallacy 
of the literate the belief that illiteracy and ignorance are 

Gramp was one of those unschooled men whose minds 
are not molded to a conventional pattern. He was always 
himself, never anyone else. His ideas had matured gradu- 
ally, unhurriedly. They had not been forced in a hothouse 


of learning. They were sun-ripened. His casual remarks 
were often fresh, humorous and flavorsome. They smacked 
of his own personality. 

"Those pants/' he said one day when my trousers had 
shrunk in the wash, "look like they'd been picked too 

When Gram remarked that a neighbor girl was sweet, 
Gramp declared: "I don't know whether she's sweet er 
not. I never tasted her." 

"When y' git older/' he observed on another occasion, 
"th' years keep goin' faster an' faster. Seems t' be Fourth 
o' July all th' year 'round." 

Seen in retrospect, Gramp was probably not a very 
efficient farmer. Although it was he who introduced the 
growing of muskmelons into the dune country and al- 
though one farmer traveled more than fifty miles to get 
instructions from him, he often planted his crops without 
much of an eye to proper soils or rotation. He was a pio- 
neer and set routine galled his spirit. He didn't like "fuss 
and feathers." He desired existence plain and simple. He 
wanted to "camp out" at home. At the table he was like 
Henry Thoreau: The dish he preferred was "the nearest." 

A good joke was worth more than a dollar to Gramp. 
Not infrequently people took advantage of his good na- 
ture; imposed upon him by appealing to his sense of hu- 

I remember one blistering July day when there was a 
knock at the front door just as we were sitting down to 
the noon meal. On the other side of the screen stood a 



disreputable-looking tramp. 

"Might I have a bite to eat?" he asked, "I am willing to 
work at my trade to earn a meal/' 

"What is your trade?" Gramp inquired. 

"I am," said the tramp with meekly downcast eyes, "an 

Gramp roared with laughter and heaping up a plate 
carried it out under a tree for the tramp to eat. 

A joke on himself was as good as a joke on anybody 
else. For years he used to tell about the night he chased 
the cows through the corn. 

Two young practical jokers of the neighborhood had 
waited until about midnight before appearing at Lone 
Oak with cowbells in their hands. Ringing the bells near 
Cramp's bedroom window, they worked gradually toward 
a near-by cornfield. Half asleep, Gramp pulled on his 
clothes and stumbled out into the night. The cows seemed 
to be at the far end of the field. He rushed in that direc- 
tion. The bells rang tantalizingly a hundred yards away. 
He raced toward the sound. The cows weren't there. The 
sound of the bells came from a new direction. For half 
an hour he stumbled about in the darkness in pursuit of 
the phantom cattle. Finally he gave up. His shouting 
stopped. With a: "Blast ye! Go ahead an' founder yer- 
selves!" he returned to the house. 

The next morning the cows were peacefully munching 
their cuds in the barnyard. While he was scratching his 
head over this, a neighbor, going to town, reined up his 


"Ed,** lie called, "I hear y had cows in yer corn las* 
night.' 3 

Then he drove on, chuckling to himself. Later in the 
morning, a second neighbor pulled up and inquired: 

"Cows outa yer corn yit, Ed?" 

As soon as he had disappeared around a bend in the 
road, Grarnp made for the cornfield. Between the rows 
of standing corn there were no cow-tracks. But there were 
the footprints of running human feet. And most of the 
tracks had been made by other shoes than his own. 

"What a big stand-up-and-fall-down!" he exclaimed. 
Then he returned laughing to the barnyard. 

Under Cramp's good nature, however, there was no 
lack of spirit or courage. If anybody willfully or inten- 
tionally wronged him, he would "get up on his hind legs 
like a man" as he was wont to express it. In the days when 
a new ax took money that couldn't well be spared he once 
set a tramp to chopping up some kindling in payment for 
a meal. As soon as he wasn't watched, the come-along 
shouldered the ax and set off at a trot down the road. 
When Cramp discovered the tramp had stolen his ax, he 
started in hot pursuit. 

Gram, seeing he was unarmed and thinking the tramp 
might attack him with the ax, ran after him, shouting for 
him to stop. Around the bend they came. The tramp 
looked back and saw Cramp, hatless and with his beard 
flying in the wind, bearing down on him with Gram, her 
sunbonnet clutched in her hand, a hundred yards behind. 

"Drop that ax, y' scalawag!" Gramp bellowed. 



The tramp obeyed. He sprinted wildly for the woods. 

"But he might have killed you!" Gram remonstrated as 
they regained their breath and walked back to the farm. 

"What d* y think I'd a bin doin* about thet time?" 
Gramp wanted to know. 

In her way, Gram was as remarkable as Gramp. She 
was only sixteen when she had come as his bride to Lone 
Oak Farm. They had arrived in a wagon drawn by Duke 
and Dime, Cramp's two pure-white oxen. The oxen were 
the only draft animals he possessed. In later years Gram 
used to tell how patient and beautiful and strong they 
were. Gramp remembered how confounded slow they 

At the time of their marriage Gram, with her regular 
features, her masses of shining brown hair and the clear 
red of health in her cheeks, must have possessed singular 
beauty. All her life she washed her face only in water; 
she never used soap. And even when she was well past 
fifty, her skin retained its rose-petal softness. Five feet, 
five inches in height, she hardly came to Cramp's shoul- 

She had been born in Ogdensburg, N.Y., and had spent 
her early years near the banks of the St. Lawrence. Her 
maiden name was Jemima George. Her father, Henry 
George, was a prosperous masonry contractor, engaged 
in building large churches in the region. In her sixteenth 
year, while she was attending a select seminary for young 
kdies in Ogdensburg, her father lost both health and 
money in a sudden series of reverses. The family moved 


west to a farm a few miles from Lone Oak and there 
Henry George died two years later. 

For the young girl, this swift change from the classics 
of the Ogdensburg schoolroom to the rough frontier so- 
ciety of the dune country in 1867 was like a plunge from 
daylight into darkness. On her first week in her new home 
she was invited to go to a prayer meeting at the Furness- 
ville church. There she heard one of the women arise to 

"Brothering and sistering, I want t* testify an thank th' 
Lord. I ain't seen th' man I'm a-feerd of yit!" 

Bewildered and uncertain, shy and misunderstood, 
Gram had floundered about for several months. Then she 
met Gramp. At the time, he possessed nine white shirts 
probably more than he owned at any one time in his 
whole later life and was still arrayed for state occasions 
in the blue army overcoat he had brought home from the 
war. In the fall of 1867, when Gramp was twenty-five and 
Gram sixteen, they were married. 

Those early days at Lone Oak were never easy. Malaria 
became so bad at times that a little dish of quinine was 
placed on the table and every member of the family had 
to dip out a quantity and swallow it at breakfast-time. 
Bending over her scrub-board or laboring at the churn, 
Gram would be wracked by chills and fever. When help 
was scarce she hoed under the blistering sun. She reared 
four children a son, Allan, who died in early man- 
hood; Clara, my mother; Winnifred, and Elizabeth. High- 
strung, sensitive, and comparatively frail, she was ill- 



fitted for the frontier life she led. 

This hard labor which was her lot never broke her 
spirit. She had flint in her makeup. Sometimes the flint 
struck sparks. There were days when she was over-tired 
and irritable. Fatigue is Life's great poison. When we are 
thoroughly rested, how reasonable and agreeable we are! 
Angels may be angels because they can rest eternally. 
On days when Gram was over-worked and tart-tongued, 
Gramp would take me aside and say: 

"Mother's got alum on ? er tongue this mornin'. Better 
steer clear o ? th* kitchen." 

At the time when her children were young and the 
drain on her strength was greatest, an event of lasting im- 
portance occurred in the community. The Township 
trustees purchased a set of 140 of the world's classic books 
of history and literature. They were bound in leather and 
housed in a special bookcase. Members of the community 
could take out books as from a public library. For many 
years these books remained at Lone Oak and Gram was 
their custodian. 

She read aloud every one of the millions of words they 
contained. The books provided higher education at Lone 
Oak. She and Gramp knew all the great battles of his- 
tory; they were familiar with the plays of Shakespeare and 
the poems of Milton and the novels of George Eliot. 
Biography interested them most of all. Gramp knew the 
life of Napoleon forward and backward. 

For more than forty years Gram read aloud almost 
every evening and it was one of the big events of the 


day. Sometimes, in earlier years, neighbors or hired men 
from near-by farms used to stroll over after the chores 
were done to listen in on the reading. In summer they 
would stretch out on the front porch, puffing silently at 
their pipes and slapping now and then at a pestiferous 
mosquito. Beside a kerosene lamp, inside the screen door, 
Gram would read on and on, her expressive voice rising 
with the exciting passages. 

Oftentimes Gram was emotional and impulsive. Once 
she threw the mop at a cat making tracks across her clean 
kitchen floor and then cried for half an hour because she 
hit it. Idealistically, she usually was right. She never com- 
promised with the wickedness of the world. A wrong was 
a wrong to her no matter how gilded or sugar-coated. "It 
is wonderful," says Charles Dickens in his preface to 
Oliver Twist, "how Virtue turns from dirty stockings; 
and how Vice, married to ribbons and a little gay attire, 
changes her name, as wedded ladies do, and becomes 
Romance." But not for Gram. She saw through guile as 
through a window-pane. And she walked alone, if neces- 

"Part of our responsibility," she used to say, "is to keep 
evil-doers from doing evil. It isn't enough just to forgive 
them the evil they do!" 

Another time she observed: "Most old ladies look to me 
like they had their mouths clamped shut to keep from 
saying what they really thought." 

Neither moths nor old age corrupted the violence of 
her indignation against tyranny and oppression. The in- 



justices of history, even those of a thousand years before, 
touched off her scorn and contempt just as much as did 
the injustices of her own day and community. The view- 
point of not caring what happened, so long as it didn't 
happen to her, was incomprehensible to Gram. She was 
an Isaiah in a sunbonnet. Single-handed, she was a society 
for the prevention of cruelty to animals and men. Wher- 
ever wrong and injustice reared their heads she was there 
in valiant spirit. You had the feeling that if the whole 
world crashed around her, she would fight on, solitary and 

Alongside her spirit of resolution for fair-dealing, Gram 
had a deep love of beauty. When she was nearing 
seventy-five, and had gone to live with one of her daugh- 
ters, she spent a whole delightful morning washing china- 
ware after a social function simply because, as she said, 
the beautiful patterns on the dishes gave her pleasure. 
The birds, the flowers, die clouds all that was beautiful 
around her attracted her deeply. She was like the fa- 
ther of the French painter, Millet, of whom it is related 
that he used to pluck handfuls of grass and show them 
to his son, saying: "See how beautiful this is!" 

The yard at Lone Oak was no ordinary place; it was no 
stretch of bare ground and straggling weeds. A terraced 
lawn ran from the front porch to the road. Flowers bor- 
dered the walk and roses were everywhere. There were 
lilacs, half a century old; flowering almonds; double 
hollyhocks; climbing nasturiums; peonies, and diamond- 
shaped beds of dahlias. I recall one of the first automo- 


biles to churn through the sand of the road which passed 
the house. The driver halted in amazement and the peo- 
ple in the strange machine sat for a long time looking at 
the oasis of Gram's front yard. Finally the driver got out 
and offered me twenty-five cents a great sum for a 
bouquet of the flowers. 

Gram cared for the yard in spare moments and in the 
cool of the evening after the day's work was over. Rais- 
ing flowers provided an outlet for her nervous tension and 
for her intense love of the beautiful. 

In a pioneer society it is the harder qualities of mind 
and character that are at a premium. The softer virtues 
are looked upon as luxuries. Men and women, struggling 
desperately to make ends meet, are like tightrope-walkers 
who cannot forget for a moment the business of preserv- 
ing their lives. A sensitiveness to the color and poetry of 
Nature is unessential, excess baggage. Such people have 
an instinctive dread of luxuries. Their lives, of necessity, 
are spent stifling the desire for luxury. It is only the rare 
and superlative character who is able to retain the softer 
qualities, beneath his armor, in a world of constant strug- 
gle. This Gram did and she stands out in my mind as one 
of the indomitable, great women of my meeting. 

She had her own fund of stories, many of them the 
product of her imagination. There was one summer, when 
I was very small, that she put me to sleep each night with 
a new installment of a continued story about the Elver 
Pixies. After the dishes were washed and while the chorus 
of the katydids and crickets was swelling outside the bed- 



room window, she would come and sit beside me and 
make up adventure after adventure while I listened en- 
tranced. Faint, long-ago images of little people, with 
peaked caps, running about the banks of a dark stream, 
remain with me still. 

These, then, were the two people about whose lives I 
their only grandson whirled like a satellite from June 
to September in the golden days of summer and youth. 
My parents appeared from time to time at Lone Oak 
Farm. The daughters of the family came home often for 
part of the summer. But there were long stretches when 
we were alone, the three of us two old and one young. 
The debt I owe my grandparents most of all is the free- 
dom they gave me, freedom to roam the acres of corn and 
wheat and potatoes, the woods and swamps, and to make 
this world my own. 




THE only shadow that saddened these early days was the 
fact that I had not been born an Indian. 

As a boy, I used to think a great deal about it contrast- 
ing my lot with the happy, carefree existence which would 
have been mine if I had been born in some Chippewa's 
wigwam. Then I would have lived a life remote from 
schoolbooks and dull routine; then my grown-up future 
would have been a long succession of sunlit years spent 
under the open sky. When I broached my dissatisfaction 
to Gramp, he said: 

"Well, y might ez well make up y'ur mind t* bein* a 



paleface, Edwin, cuz it's too late t* do anythin* about it 

Somehow I felt my father and mother were to blame 
for not being redskins. In various ways I sought to make 
up for the deficiency of being born with a white skin. I 
cultivated a dusky hue by washing as infrequently as the 
law, and Gram, would allow. I walked along a line with 
my toes pointing straight ahead in careful Indian-fashion. 
On one occasion I tried to live on acorns for a whole day. 
I patched together bits of leather and calico and rabbit 
fur into an amazing, multi-hued Indian jacket which 
alarmed even the cows and chickens. 

One night I slept on the hard floor of the bedroom to 
toughen my body, and another day I walked around out 
of sight of the farmhouse for half an hour with a block 
of wood perched on my head in an effort to develop the 
straight-as-an-arrow posture of the noble red man. Then 
there was the August afternoon when I gave Gram a fright 
by appearing at the kitchen door with my face darkened 
with blackberry juice. 

About this time I first heard someone discussing the 
idea of reincarnation. I became an immediate convert 
and was greatly cheered by the thought that I might have 
been an Indian, even a chief, during some previous exist- 
ence. The summer that Ernest Thompson Seton's Two 
Little Savages fell into my hands I went rapidly from 
bad to worse. Chicken-feather head-dresses trailed down 
my back and flapped in the breeze and I rarely moved 
without being accompanied by my bow and quiver of 


arrows. Gramp had shaped the bow with a drawknife 
from a length of seasoned ash. But it was the arrows which 
were my special pride and joy. Their shafts were of oak 
and carefully polished and they were tipped with real 
Indian arrowheads, fashioned from flint. 

At that time spearheads and tomahawk-heads and ar- 
rowheads were plowed up frequently from the sandy soil 
of the Lone Oak fields. Indians of various tribes had 
successively occupied the dune country. Mighty but for- 
gotten battles had been fought over the very land where 
I now roamed. 

Within a few minutes' walk of the farmhouse there lay 
a number of sites closely associated with earlier, more 
primitive days. These spots attracted me time after time. 
I used to make expeditions, for example, to a small patch 
of tangled woodland, clinging to the side of a sandhill. 
Here, Gramp had told me, the last Canadian lynx in the 
region had been killed the year that I was born. Another 
pilgrimage, as to some Mecca, carried me to the top of 
a rise which overlooked our lower meadow. In that field, 
one misty autumn morning long ago, Gramp had seen 
more than twenty deer feeding among his cattle. But the 
spot which most often drew me was the marshland "is- 
land" where Cramp's cows stood in the shade and flicked 
away flies with their tails during the hottest hours of the 
August noontide. 

According to legend, this "island" had been a battle- 
field of the Indians. At any event, the sand which lay 
beneath the sparse grass was a storehouse, a museum, of 



Indian implements. It was here that I obtained the flint 
tips for my arrows. 

At one time I had more than 100 arrowheads, spear- 
heads and tomahawk-heads which I had picked up in 
this relatively small area. Whenever the Gunders plowed 
the field which bordered the "island" on the west, the 
plowshare brought to light an amazing number of flint 
arrowheads. As I hunted these reminders of unwritten 
history, I used to imagine myself in the thick of ancient 
battles. I used to wonder what the country looked like in 
those days, what game lived in herds and coveys among 
the hills and swamps of the dune country, what life-and- 
death struggles had taken place at the very spot where I 
was standing. 

The most memorable moment in connection with these 
years of wishing I were an Indian came as the result of a 
stray bit of redskin lore which I encountered in a maga- 
zine article. It stated that young warriors showed their 
mettle by placing live coals on their wrists and letting 
them burn to ashes without flinching. 

I determined to prove my courage with coals of fire. 

That afternoon, when I was alone in the kitchen, I 
gingerly opened the hot door of the range and peered 
in. Tongues of red flames flicked and darted above a 
mass of glowing coals. The torrid breath of the fire struck 
me in the face. I hastily closed the door. The bottom had 
dropped out of my resolution. 

It took five minutes of earnest and silent dialogue to 
bring my determination back to the sticking point and 


my paleface body back within reach of the stove. Poker 
in hand, I fished out a spitting coal of glowing red. It was 
fully as large as a quarter. 

In the breeze of my excited breathing it dilated like a 
baleful red eye. It seemed to grow in size. I could see it 
in my imagination, searing the flesh with strong-smelling 
smoke curling up just as it did when the blacksmith 
clamped a red-hot shoe on Dolly's hoof. After considera- 
tion, I recalled that the item I had read had said nothing 
about the size of the coal. I decided to try a smaller one. 

After considerable maneuvering, I succeeded in ex- 
tracting a second coal. This one was about the size of a 
nickel. It still looked huge and hot far too hot and far 
too huge. I pushed it back hastily and closed the door of 
the stove to rest my eyes and rally my moral forces. Next 
time the coal was hardly as large as a dime. To my great 
relief, it burned itself out and became merely a grayish 
lump, which rapidly lost its heat, before I was ready to 
transfer it to the bare skin of my wrist. 

A final try and this time courage triumphed, 

I placed the live coal which by the progression of 
events had become no larger than a soot flake on my 
wrist. It glowed briefly and then expired like a falling star. 
When I examined the skin of my wrist, under the harsh 
sunshine outdoors, I detected a minute spot of red. The 
burn was of pinliead proportions. But it was, neverthe- 
less, a self-inflicted burn, a badge of fortitude. I felt as- 
sured that, in spite of my paleface skin, I had the mettle 
of an Indian brave. 



The next best thing to being an Indian, in my early 
dreams, was roving the northern woods as a Hudson Bay 
trapper. This ambition was kept alive by the successive 
arrivals of a bulky volume which held an honored place 
in dune-country homes. This was the Sears, Roebuck cata- 
logue. It was no mere exhibit of wares for sale. It was 
infinitely more. It was a fabulous, farm-boy's book of 
dreams, a doorway into magical realms. 

The section which held me entranced longest of all was 
devoted to sporting goods. Here I found tents and guns 
and canoes, cowboy hats and blacksnake whips, traps and 
lumberman's shirts and hunting boots. I read the all-too- 
short descriptions again and again. Like many children 
of that day, I learned to read largely by the Sears, Roe- 
buck method by trying to find all about the things I 
wanted most to own. 

On winter evenings and during the heat of midsum- 
mer days, I used to beguile the time with imaginary jour- 
neys into the wilderness. On maps in an old Montieth's 
Geography I laid out courses and calculated mileages 
along the great rivers of the Northland the Saskatche- 
wan, the Athabaska, the Mackenzie. 

Then would follow delightful hours with the Sears, 
Roebuck catalogue once more leafing back and forth 
from the grocery section to the sporting goods section to 
the clothing section listing all the staples required for 
the journey. Some of these old listings, made in those 
days, are still in existence. One includes, among other 
things, the following items, with the order numbers at- 


tached: 6K4053, Wolf Trap; 6K4089, Trap Setter; 6K4114, 
Tree Trap; 6K4230, Skin Tanner. When the lists were 
completed there would come the big moment when I 
would add up the figures and arrive at the grand total 
the amount for which the imaginary trip actually could 
be made. 

None of these trips up the rivers of the northern map 
ever materialized. Trapping among the white fastnesses 
of the Canadian wilderness remained a dream. But, for 
one brief period at Lone Oak, I did become a professional 
trapper. The record of that adventure, how it began and 
what its conclusion was, is the story of the succeeding 




THE granary at Lone Oak lifted its gray bulk above a 
small cluster of outbuildings. Set in an open space, this 
group of close-packed structures resembled an island of 
trees on the prairie. Just as such a grove often is dom- 
inated by its tallest tree, so the cluster was dominated by 
the towering form of the granary. It was second in size 
only to the barn itself. 

Years of weathering had worn away the outer surface 
of its unpainted boards. Below every ancient nailhead a 
tiny rust-stalactite lay embedded in the wood. But the 
rough-hewn beams ojE the building's skeleton were as 


sturdy as ever. Within their framework, the interior was 
broken up into a central open space near the door and 
three roomlike bins one for oats, one for wheat, one for 
rye. Overhead, among the rafters, a vast, dim storage 
space was haunted by mud-daubers and mice. Circling 
the walls of the open space, on a level with my head, a 
narrow shelf supported a regiment of small tobacco boxes, 
cigar boxes, and cheese boxes. They were filled to over- 
flowing with nails and screws, wire and bolts, washers, 
bits of chain, and crumbs of tobacco with the oddments 
of long accumulation. 

This structure was far more than a storage place for 
rye and wheat and hardware. The granary was also a 
Rainy Day Club where Gramp and I foregathered and 
where he smoked his pipe and mended bits of harness 
and told me enthralling stories of his own boyhood. 

At such times the air would be filled with a delicious 
variety of odors. The smell of the fresh rain pelting into 
the hot, dry dust outside the doorway would be mingled 
with the aroma of Cramp's corncob pipe, with the odor 
of paint and tar and axle-grease. Innumerable other olfac- 
tory ingredients contributed anonymously to the whole. 
But one predominant ingredient was far from anonymous. 
This was the all-pervading mousy smell which filled the 
interior of the old building. 

For Cramp's granary was a kind of mouse sanctuary. 
Successive generations of squeaking rodents grew sleek 
and fat on the abundance which overflowed its bins. Their 
small black droppings, which Gramp referred to as "mouse 



seeds/' were much in evidence. If we sat silent for a mo- 
ment we could hear the scurrying of little feet below the 
floorboards or among the rubbish overhead. Sometimes 
the little animals would peer out from holes gnawed 
through the bottom-boards of the bins at the floor-line. 
Only their pointed noses, their quivering whiskers, their 
bead-black little eyes would be visible. Then, if we con- 
tinued to remain unmoving, they would dart out across 
the floor with high-pitched squeaks to whisk out of sight 
again in other holes. 

The way this mouse population took possession of his 
granary stirred Gramp, from time to time, to rare out- 
bursts of wrath. One August day, when the bins were full 
and the harvest was over and word seemed to have been 
passed around so that mice from the fields were moving 
into the Promised Land, Gramp took action. 

"Edwin," he said, "y' want to be trapper, don't y'?" 

"I sure do!" 

"Then why don't y' trap these pesky mice?*' 

"I haven't any traps," 

"Well, next time we go t' town, 111 buy y' a bunch. Y' 
catch these mice and I'll give y' a nickel a dozen f er their 

The fact that that seemed a magnificent price offers 
eloquent testimony as to the mouse population of the 
granary. In fact, as I listened to the scurry and the squeak- 
ing of the various families encamped within the walls of 
the building and emboldened by plenty and easy se- 
curity I concluded that here lay a smooth, broad high- 

way to riches. 

The next time we drove to Michigan City, Gramp was 
as good as his word. He bought two dozen spring mouse- 
traps at Staiger's Hardware and handed me the package 
as we left the store. 

"Now yer in the trappin* business/' he told me as 
we unhitched the horses and climbed into the cracker- 

Hardly had the wheels stopped rolling in the Lone Oak 
barnyard before I was out establishing my trap-line. With 
fragments of cheese for bait, I distributed the spring- 
traps along the shelves and beams and near the black, 
gaping holes gnawed in the flooring. Before darkness 
came I already had a dozen slender little tails which I 
delivered to Gramp in triumph. With five pennies in 
"bounty money" jingling in my pocket, I reset the traps 
and prepared for bed. Unaware of any law of diminish- 
ing returns, I dreamed that night of an unending harvest 
of mouse-tails which would save Cramp's grain and fill 
my pockets with copper coins. 

These rosy expectations seemed justified at dawn next 
morning. There was a mouse in every trap. As I ate a 
hearty breakfast of fried eggs and bacon, washed down 
with milk five minutes from its source, I counted up the 
days until I had to return to school and multiplied by ten 
to get the total of my revenue. 

That day a new idea occurred to me. I would skin the 
mice and make little pelts of their soft fur. This work 
proved more delicate than I had anticipated but, after 



many whettings of my jackknife, I mastered the art of 
mouse-skinning and by evening had five little pelts dry- 
ing on a board in the woodshed. Held in place with pins., 
each was well rubbed with salt and alum. Gramp and 
Gram came out to look at them after supper and Gram 
wondered "what I'd think of next." 

It wasn't mouse-tails that I dreamed of that night. It 
was tiny pelts softer than velvet. In my imagination I had 
leaped ahead to a position as the John Jacob Astor of the 
Mouse Pelts. I could foresee a whole industry founded on 
mouse-skins. With no effort at all I could close my eyes 
and see bales and bales of tiny skins tied up, awaiting 
shipment in carload lots. 

However, with the passing of a week, the daily catch 
began to taper off. In spite of their seemingly inexhaust- 
ible numbers, the granary mice were giving out. I tried 
bigger pieces of cheese, then other baits, then clusters of 
unbaited traps placed around every hole. I washed the 
traps and smoked them in approved trapper-fashion to 
remove human smell. In spite of everything, the take 
diminished day by day. I was discouraged. But Cramp 
was delighted. 

"YVe jest about cleaned th* little varmints out!" he 

"But I thought there were millions of mice!" 

"They sounded like a million, all right," he agreed. 
"But y' can't always tell by sound. I recllect about Mr. 
Bump an* th' frogs. One summer th* frogs in a little pond 
near Mr. Bump's house croaked so much he couldn't sleep 


nights. He contracted with a hotel in th ? city t* supply 
10,000 pair o ? frog-legs. When he tried t ? deliver th ? legs 
he couldn't find only eight frogs in th* whole pond. But 
they had sounded like 10,000 to him!" 

I turned to other pelts, to gophers and moles and a red 
squirrel or two. Once, as we were returning home from 
Michigan City, I spied a dead rabbit along the road and, 
in spite of Cramp's remonstrances, brought it home to 
skin. Another time I raced across a field to the eastern 
orchard where Grain was picking up early harvest apples, 
with an SOS for alum. I had discovered a large discarded 
bacon rind and had it nailed up on the granary door ready 
for tanning. But my greatest source of oddity pelts was 
Rose-of -the- Army. 

Rose-of -the- Army ws our black and white mother cat 
She was one of the greatest hunters I have ever met and, 
as her latest litter of kittens then was growing up, she ap- 
peared at frequent intervals with fresh quarry from the 
fields. Her peculiar, quavering, far-carrying call, as she 
came in with rats and gophers, field mice and moles, sent 
both her kittens and me racing pell-mell in her direction. 
Having the longest legs, I got there first. 

That autumn, when I returned to home and school, I 
carried the catch of the season with me. It consisted 
mostly of mouse-skins and the whole bundle could be 
held in one hand. That, I had to admit, was a far cry from 
the great bundles of furs I had seen pictured on sleds com- 
ing out of the northern wilderness. But, nevertheless, it 
was a bundle of furs no matter how small. 



One Saturday morning, late that autumn, my pelts went 
to market. There were no Hudson Bay trading posts, with 
knives and guns and calico, on the busy streets of Joliet. 
There were only stores with plate-glass windows and 
efficiently arranged counters. Toward one of these estab- 
lishments I headed without divulging my intentions to 
anyone. I had noticed in the previous evening's issue of 
The Joliet Herald a large advertisement of a fur sale. The 
store selling the most furs, I reasoned, would be the place 
quickest in need of a new supply. 

Somewhat timidly I climbed the stairs to the fur de- 
partment. Under bright lights, which gleamed on the 
polished wood and glass of the showcases, fashionably 
dressed ladies were viewing themselves in full-length 
mirrors. Clerks hovered about them, admiring audibly the 
effect of each new fur-piece. Over all hung the depressing 
odor of moth-balls. 

For a long time nobody paid any attention to me, an 
eight-year-old shifting from one foot to the other on the 
thick green carpet. Finally the manager of the department 
spied me. He walked briskly up. A little dubiously, he in- 

"Like to look at some furs, young man?" 

"I have some furs to sell." 

"What kind of furs?" 

"They are small furs." 

"Well, where are they?" 

He looked around and apparently saw nothing, 

"They are here." 


I tugged at the little bundle and it came out of my 
pocket with a jerk. The mouse pelts seemed to have shrunk 
in size. They suddenly appeared insignificant, almost mi- 

The manager gave a start. Then he turned his back, 
seemingly to view in a better light the bundle of skins I 
had given him. For a moment he appeared overcome by 
an attack of ague. Then he got himself in hand and said: 

"I must show these to the owner of the store. He has to 
decide on such purchases, you know." 

He disappeared in an office and hastily closed the door. 
From inside came suppressed exclamations and stifled 
gurgles. In a few minutes the door opened a crack and 
the manager's hand beckoned to the head saleslady. She 
disappeared in the office and the door quickly clicked 
shut. Feminine giggles were added to the subdued sounds 
in the office. 

The door then opened and out popped the head of a 
gray-haired man I had not seen before. He, I thought, 
must be the store owner. He stared at me, his face screwed 
up under the stress of obvious self-control. Then the 
head popped in and the door went shut. 

A couple of minutes passed. Then out marched the head 
saleslady, her upper teeth showing in a reddened face as 
she bit her underlip. Behind came the fur-department 
manager. His face was also pink from pent-up emotion. 
He explained courteously that the store had all the furs 
it could use for the time being. 

"While we can't make use of your furs ourselves/' he 



concluded, "I understand the Boston Store needs some. 
Ask for Mr. Bryant over there. And say I sent you." 

While this advice was being offered, the head sales- 
lady was whispering to a knot of clerks and customers 
beside one of the full-length mirrors. I felt all eyes were 
on me as I headed for the stairs. Just as I reached the 
top step, a heavy, florid woman, who had been trying 
on a silver-fox neckpiece, reached the limit of her self- 
control. She burst like a paper bag into a wheezing howl 
of laughter. A cackling uproar, like the alarm of a hen- 
yard when a hawk is sighted, broke out behind me as I 
hurried away down the stairs. 

Several times I walked around the block before I built 
up sufficient courage to enter the Boston Store. Here, 
as soon as I approached the fur department, work ceased. 
A man with a carnation in his lapel hurried up with an 
air of pleasant anticipation. News of my coming evi- 
dently had preceded me. 

No sooner had I pulled my little bundle of furs from 
my pocket than I was the center of a cluster of clerks, 
floorwalkers, and customers. One wanted to know how I 
trapped the animals. Another inquired what kind of bait 
I used. A third asked how I cured the pelts. At the end of 
ten minutes the questions petered out and I broached the 
subject of a purchase price. The cluster dissolved sud- 

"I'll tell you what/* said the man with the carnation. 
"We were in need of furs last week. But a new shipment 
came in. However, I believe they need furs badly over at 


Duckers Department Store. Mr. Johnson is the man to see. 
Be sure to tell him I sent you!" 

My suspicions were justified when I entered the front 
door at Ducker's. As soon as I asked for Mr. Johnson, 
snickers followed me down the aisle. With a certain stub- 
born trait of character, I marched on. Mr. Johnson greeted 
me effusively. Before I could say a word, he exclaimed: 

"Ah! So you are the young man with the pelts. Mr. 
Bryant phoned me you were coming." 

I saw work cease and clerks begin converging toward 

"Let's examine your furs/' Mr. Johnson began, beaming 
and rubbing his hands together. 

"I guess they aren't really furs," I blurted out. "They're 
only mouse-skins!" 

Then I fled precipitately. 




THE pig rode in state up to the farmhouse door. It was a 
small white pig and it was mine. Six months had elapsed 
since the episode of the mouse pelts. My parents, seek- 
ing to direct me into more normal activity, had engineered 
the purchase of the pig. They expected it would provide 
me with a never-to-be-forgotten object lesson in the value 
of thrift. It was to initiate me into the virtues and mys- 
teries of compound interest. 

"It," my mother had explained, "is a mamma pig. After 
a while it will have baby pigs. Some of them will be 
mamma pigs. They will have baby pigs. Starting with one 


pig, some day you may have a whole field full of pigs!" 

In a way, the white pig had as its immediate ancestor 
a brown glazed china pig with a slot in its back. Through 
this slot I had been instructed to drop pennies and nickels 
and dimes during the winter before. The china pig was 
kept out of reach on the top of a cupboard and, from time 
to time, I was permitted to feel its increasing weight and 
to rattle the coins inside. When its contents passed the 
five-dollar mark, all the coins were taken out with the 
aid of a silver knife, which guided them through the slot, 
and given to Gramp for the purchase of a suitable mother 

I rode with him to a farm, three-quarters of a mile away. 
There he picked out the pig he wanted and stated he 
could pay five dollars for it but not a cent more. The 
owner of the farm was known to be "a little on the sharp 
side," but he had good pigs. He was an undersized man 
with a long nose and one weak eye which he kept par- 
tially closed as though he were continually sighting along 
a gun-barrel. He sniffed when he talked. As Gramp said, 
he was "a hemmer and a hawer." 

He remained silent a long time after he heard Gramp's 
terms. Before venturing to speak, he cleared his throat. 

"1 9 er ? sniff "I, ah" sniff . Then he fell silent, sight- 
ing up at a treetop. Minutes passed. He cleared his throat 

"Well, Ed" sniff 1, ah . . ." His voice trailed off. 
In silence he followed the flight of a swallow circling his 
big red barn. He cleared his throat and we waited ex- 



pectantly. Instead of speaking, he stood on one leg and 
swished a heavy-soled shoe back and forth through the 
grass, sending up a small cloud of dust and pollen. Fully 
five minutes had gone by before he came to the great 

"Thet pig, y'know, Ed" sniff "is a mighty likely 
young sow" long pause and a final sniff "but j kin 
have ? er f er the five dollars ef the boy wants ? er/' 

We loaded the white pig in a special crate we had 
brought in the cracker-wagon and started for home. At 
the kitchen door Gram came out to see the animal. 

"What are you going to name her, Edwin?" she wanted 
to know after she had shaded her eyes and peered be- 
tween the slats of the crate. I hadn't thought of that. Fi- 
nally we decided on the name "Flora." 

Flora was to live in the same pen with Cramp's young 
pigs. I was to pay for her board and keep by carrying one 
pail of swill a day to dump in the hog-trough. Once Flora 
had been deposited safely within the fenced-in enclosure, 
I felt I was in business. I was launched on a sea of com- 
pound interest. 

That term, compound interest, was not unknown to me 
even before the advent of the white pig. For it played a 
prominent part in a Lone Oak joke of long standing. 

In the year 1872 Gramp had promised to take Gram to 
a Fourth of July celebration at Michigan City. A few years 
before, the vanguard of the Colorado potato beetles, ad- 
vancing eastward from the Rockies at the rate of about 
eighty-five miles a year, had reached Indiana. In 1872 a 


wave of these agricultural pests enveloped the potato 
field at Lone Oak. Fourth of July came and Gramp shook 
his head gravely. 

" 'Mirny/* he said, "I guess we better pick beetles in- 
stead o' goin' t* th' celebration. Ef y help git those pesky 
bugs off th' vines, 111 tell y what 111 do. Ill give y one- 
third o' all th' cash th' crop brings in." 

Gram agreed and all that Fourth of July she knocked 
beetles off into a tin pail half-filled with kerosene. Fall 
came and her share of the potato crop amounted to $24.00. 
But there was illness that year and sudden expenses. They 
decided to wait until the next harvest season to pay the 
amount. And so it went, from year to year. An annual 
hilarious rite, at the time I was small, occurred when the 
daughters of the family were all home for some holiday. 
With pencils and papers they would figure up, at six per 
cent compound interest, what Gramp then owed Gram 
for the beetles she picked. By the summer of the white 
pig, the amount had pyramided to $253.22 more than 
ten and a half times the original sum. 

Gramp, on these occasions, would chuckle and say: 

"Won't be long now afore well have t' sell th' whole 
farm t' pay Mother her bug-money!*' 

"Right now," he once added, "I couldn't buy a shingle 
ef th' whole meetin' house was fer sale fer a cent!" 

Another time he observed: "Maybe it's no disgrace t* 
be poor but it's mighty inconvenient!" 

Of course, Gramp wasn't poor, any more than he was 
rich. He had money in the bank; he owned his farm; he 



had put his children through college. But excess cash was 
never plentiful. Although hunger and want were un- 
known, luxuries were few and far between. And, in the 
early days, he and Gram had had to scrimp to make ends 
meet. Cramp's gold watch, the heavy timepiece he had 
carried through the Civil War, was a friend in need dur- 
ing many financial crises before the farm was paid for. 
Half a dozen times Cramp parted company with it, leav- 
ing it as security for a loan to be reclaimed at harvest 

The big financial hurdle of the year, tax-time, came as 
regularly as groundhog day. And it always found Cramp 
unprepared. Easy-going and full of jokes during the rest 
of the year, he would suddenly settle down to the serious 
business of raising cash. There would be a hurrying and 
scurrying, an attempt to sell everything in sight. After 
this storm, calm would reign again. 

Acquisitiveness was not an important element in the 
character of either my grandfather or my grandmother. 
Cramp was too kindly disposed to drive a hard bargain 
and Gram was too impulsively generous, too sure that the 
real wealth of the world lay in books and learning. 

Once, in her early married life when all the ready 
money Gram possessed was a silver dollar hidden in a 
wooden wall-clock, an elderly stranger knocked at the 
front door. He told a pitiful tale of want that brought 
tears to Gram's eyes. When he left, the silver dollar was 
in his pocket. Unfortunately, when he stopped at a neigh- 
boring farmhouse and told of "the good lady down the 


road" who had given him a whole dollar, he was recog- 
nized as an impostor from Burdick. The neighbors hailed 
Gramp as he drove past that evening, on his way home 
from town: 

"Ed, y* must hev money t* burn down t* yer place! 
'Mirny give a whole dollar t' an old snide from Burdick 
while y' was t' town/* 

Another year one of the other neighbors, tired of hear- 
ing how well-read Gram was and how many books she 
owned, decided to own a book, too. Her choice was a 
popular novel, selling for a dollar and a half. After she 
had read it, she stopped at Lone Oak. 

"I don't have any more use fer th' book," she explained 
to Gram. "Thought y might want t* buy it. I can't afford 
t' keep good money tied up in books. Noticed you never 
seemed t' mind, though." 

Gram didn't buy it. But she did continue to buy the 
books and magazines she wanted whenever the oppor- 
tunity offered. It was a luxury she permitted herself even 
though the opinion of the community was virtually unani- 
mous that it was an act of wanton and willful extrava- 

Although, at Lone Oak, they worried about the taxes, 
Gramp and Gram were singularly independent. They 
were servants to none. They steered by their own stars. 
Although they had known want, as pioneers knew it, they 
had nothing but contempt for anyone who married for 
money. They knew the freedom of sincerity. They had no 
false front to maintain. They had no desire to fool or mis- 



lead, BO wish to impress people that they were greater 
than they were. 

At one end of a long room at the Metropolitan Museum 
of Art, in New York City, a celebrated painting by Jules 
Bastien-Lepage shows the maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc, 
standing in her humble farm dooryard at Domremy. The 
simplicity and sincerity of her surroundings have been 
caught by the brush of the painter. In the loneliness of 
my first year in the great city I often sought out this pic- 
ture. That country dooryard of a distant land was, in 
many ways, like the one I remembered so well at Lone 
Oak. Both were, to use the Wordsworth phrase, the scenes 
of simple living and high thinking. Honesty and high 
ideals inhabited them both. 

I valued these latter virtues all the more as the unex- 
pected consequence of my contact with compound inter- 
est in the form of little pigs. The results of that initial busi- 
ness venture were far from those expected. 

On the morning after Flora came to our farm, I rushed 
out to see if there were any baby pigs in the pen. There 
wasn't even Flora! 

"Maybe she's all covered with mud so y don't recog- 
nize her/' Gramp consoled me when I arrived breathless 
back at the house. 

But such was not the case. Gramp poked in the shed 
and routed out all the pigs. Flora was not among them. 
Then he circled the pen, examining the fence minutely. 
At the far side, where the bottom-board of the fence was 
nailed to a soft sassafras post, the pig had pushed her 


way to freedom. Gramp got an ear of corn and walked 
about the barnyard calling: 

"Here, Pooey! Pooey! Pooey!" 

But no Flora appeared. He put down the com and be- 
gan to follow the tracks left by the small cloven hoofs. 
They headed straight for the farm where we had bought 
the pig. After breakfast we hitched Dolly to the buggy 
and drove up to see the owner. 

"I dunno," Gramp ruminated as we rolled along, 
"whether hell admit it even ef th ? pig did come home/' 

He probably was recalling an event at the last election. 
So intent was the pig-raiser on getting the best of his 
fellow-men that he practiced up on unimportant trifles. 
As Gramp was leaving the voting-place, the man had 
hailed him: 

"Who'd y vote fer, Ed?" he asked with only a minor 

"I voted fer George Martin. Who'd y* vote fer?" 

"That's fer me t* know" sniff "an' fer y' t* find out!" 

With that he had ambled off chuckling to himself. 

As we turned up his driveway, the farmer was coming 
from the pig-yard. Gramp asked him if he had seen the 
white pig we had bought the day before, explaining what 
had happened. After a minute or two of rumination, while 
he sighted away across a lower pasture, he observed: 

"Well, ah, y know, Ed, that'd be putty hard t' tell. Lota 
pigs" sniff "in my pen." 

"Did y' see a little white pig outside th* pen this morn- 




After a long delay, he cleared his throat. 

"Yes I did ? Ed/' he admitted. "But" sniff "there were 
five o' my young pigs outa the pen. Mighta been one o* 
them, y'know. Got outa hole. Don't see how we can be 

He sighted at Gramp for a sharp instant, then squinted 
up into the branches of an elm tree. Gramp climbed into 
his buggy. We hadn't marked Flora. We had no sure 
means of identification. 

"Th ? old cundermudgeon!" Gramp muttered as we 
drove back to the farm. "He knows blasted well that's 
your pig." 

Suddenly I was struck by a thought. Flora was gone 
and so were the little compound-interest piglets that were 
to lead to a whole field of pigs. Not only that but where 
was my five dollars? Long and loud I began to bewail my 

"Never you mind/' Gram consoled me when we reached 
home. "Well see that you get that money back anyhow/' 

Later my father made up the loss. But he was unable 
to restore my faith in the wonders and infallible riches 
which lay like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of 
compound interest. The object-lesson had miscarried. 
Flora might have stood as a symbol for the dangers of 
speculation, but she provided but a poor example of the 
rewards of sound investment 




SMARTWEED grew between the spokes of the discarded 
carriage wheels. There were four of them and they lay in 
a heap in a far corner of the woodyard. Each was almost 
as high as my head. 

As I looked at the weathered wheels, a plan took shape 
in my mind. When I was five I had gravely explained to 
Gram my idea for a "wheely-cart" It was to run on rail- 
road tracks like a train. But when it met another train 
head-on it was to lift into the air on wings, sail along, and 
then settle down on the tracks beyond. Thus wheely-cart 
trains could run in both directions on the same tracks. 



Now, as I gazed at the abandoned wheels, I decided to 
put my idea into practice, to build a real wheely-cart 
or at least to take a step in that direction. 

Heaving the wheels upright out of the tangle of weeds, 
I rolled them to a fence and propped them up. Then I 
went in search of Verne Bradfield. Verne was a boy of 
about my age who had moved into the house across the 
road and to the east of Lone Oak. Slender and sandy- 
haired, he spoke with a drawl and possessed a keen im- 
agination. The circumstances of our first memorable meet- 
ing will be told later. 

Verne and I set to work amid the chips of the woodyard. 
We whittled down the ends of sassafras poles until they 
were the right diameter to fit in the hubs of the wheels. 
Then we smeared black axle-grease on the whittled por- 
tions, slipped on the wheels, and anchored them in place 
by driving in ten-penny nails near the ends of the poles. 
This accomplished, we laid a plank across the two sassa- 
fras axles and secured it with more nails. The wheely-cart 
was finished. True, the wheels wobbled and the whole 
thing had the rickety appearance of a colt standing on its 
feet for the first time. But it rolled along when we pushed 

Granip came up from cultivating and looked at the 
wheely-cart in amazement. He said: 

"What won't a feller see when he ain't got his gun!" 

The career of the wheely-cart was short-lived. We de- 
cided to ride downhill and headed it away from the 
clothes-yard down the driveway. I straddled the plank 


and Verne gave a hard push. The wheely-cart gained 
momentum. It jolted along, bounced out of the driveway,, 
and started across a sloping field of sand and clover. Then 
three wheels came off all at once. The sudden plunge 
snapped the two sassafras axles and left me sprawling in 
the sand. Together Verne and I lugged the various parts 
back to the woodyard and turned to other pursuits. 

When Verne and I were together, other pursuits were 
always numerous. Shortly after we met, he had confided: 

"Y ? know, Edwin, I'm gun-crazy." 

So, for a time, were we both. We used to whittle away 
for hours on pieces of soft white pine, shaping life-sized 
shotguns and rifles which we painted realistic colors. 
With such hunting weapons held ready, we would wan- 
der afield on the trail of imaginary deer and catamounts. 

Once, while we were skirting the lower meadow, we 
came upon Gramp oiling his mowing-machine. His two 
work-horses Deck, a big, white-footed, slow-moving 
horse, and Colty, an all-brown animal which Gramp had 
raised from a colt and called "Colty" all the rest of its 
life were resting in the shade. 

"Mr. Way," Verne inquired with great formality, "can 
y* tell us if there's any good huntin' in this neighborhood?" 

"There certainly is!" Gramp assured him. "There's fine 
huntin' all 'round here. But," he added, "I don't know 
whether y'll find anythin' er not!" 

He chuckled and we laughed out loud. 

"Boys," he asked, "did I ever tell y* about Mr. Bump an* 
th' quail? No? Well, Mr. Bump was a great hunter. One 



time he came to a place where a lot o quail were sittin* 
on top o* a zigzag rail fence. He wanted t* git 'em all, but 
th* only gun he had with him was a single-ball musket. He 
studied fer a long while. Then, y know what he did? He 
bent th* barrel o' his gun zigzag jest like th ? fence. When 
he fired, th* ball traveled zigzag an ? killed ever' last quail 
all down th' length o ? th' fence! He told me so, himself/' 
Gramp added. 

Not far from the Lone Oak spring, cattle had trampled 
a marshy spot into a pond a dozen feet across. On the 
shores of this miniature lake, Verne and I had two ad- 
ventures. One early June day we were banging away at 
imaginary mallards and pintails when I looked down and 
saw, almost at our feet, a small black and white snake 
curled into a figure-eight. Of one accord we raced in a 
panic for the barnyard, our guns waving in the air as we 

Our second adventure occurred in late March, during 
one of my Easter vacations. A thaw had melted the ice on 
the pasture pool. In probing around in the pond with 
sticks, we unearthed a hibernating frog. It was buried in 
mud and, until we thawed it out, was as stiff as though 
frozen. Our amazement knew no bounds. For days there- 
after we barraged Gramp and Gram with questions about 
how all the varied summer creatures spent the winter- 

After a couple of years Verne's family moved to Sun- 
bury, Ohio. Three decades passed before I saw him again. 
Not long after his disappearance, another boyhood com- 


panion moved into the farmhouse over the hill beyond the 
great oak tree. His name was Dewey Gunder. Slightly 
smaller, and a little younger, than I, he had brilliant blue 
eyes and an engaging smile. These two, Verne and Dewey, 
were my main boy-companions of the time. But, year in 
and year out, my closest chums were Gramp and Gram. 

One Christmas vacation the night outside the Lone Oak 
farmhouse was filled with a volleying that made us sit 
up in our beds. Pioneer automobiles, starting from New 
York on a race around the world, were plowing through 
snow on the old sand road. The leaders reached Furness- 
ville that night and stragglers passed our farm for days 
afterward. What happened to them after they disap- 
peared beyond the western hill I never heard. But that 
floundering passage of the vanguard of the motor age 
turned our thoughts to engines and automobiles and mo- 

Dewey and I were bitten by the motor-bug as badly as 
Verne and I had been bitten by the gun-bug. We raced 
down to the gate to watch every passing car and often- 
times, holding forked sticks in front of us to form the 
handlebars of imaginary motorcycles we would go chug- 
ging and clucking about the fields in round-the-world 
races of our own. In the snow, after the passing of the 
automobile cavalcade, I had picked up a black leather 
gauntlet which one of the racers had lost. I wore it wher- 
ever I went. It was, I felt, a close link to all the vast move- 
ment of motored advance. 

A glorious day that lived long in memory was one in 


which a passing motorcyclist skidded into a ditch and 
damaged his shining new twin-cylinder Indian motor- 
cycle. Unable to get it started, he hired Gramp to haul 
the machine in his lumber wagon back to Michigan City. 
All during the long drive I sat astride the motorcycle hold- 
ing the rubber grip of one of the handlebars in my black- 
gauntleted hand. 

For a long time, one summer, Dewey and I tried 
without much success to break a calf in as a riding pony. 
Then we turned our attention to a large and placid pig. 
The runway of the pigpen skirted the western side of the 
barnyard. Here we cornered the porker and I climbed on 
its broad, smooth back. Dewey slipped a binding-twine 
loop over its snout and passed back a length of the string 
for reins. The pig took all these indignities calmly. It 
seemed to have none of the fire of an Arabian steed in its 
makeup. It walked around in deliberate circles while my 
feet plowed little furrows in the dust as they dragged 
along the ground. 

Dewey soon tired of this tame exhibition. He took off 
his wide-brimmed straw hat and slapped the pig smartly 
on the rump. The effect was almost magical. Instantly 
the porker rushed away, carrying me clinging to my 
binding-twine reins and struggling to keep my balance. 
Dewey whooped behind. 

The ride ended as suddenly as it began. While I was 
pulling myself upright after nearly losing my hold, the 
pig scuttled under die projecting end of the upper pole 
of the barnyard bars. The pole was just on a level with 


my forehead. It swept me off the animal's back as though 
I had been a fly. Trailing its binding-twine halter, the pig 
disappeared into its shed and left me lying flat on my back 
with shooting stars and a black and whirling world before 
my eyes. 

Another adventure, in which Dewey shared, contrib- 
uted to my out-of-doors education. We were returning 
home down one of the brush-lined paths of the north 
woods near twilight when I thought I sighted a lost kitten 
on the trail ahead of us. It seemed unafraid, innocent, and 
furry. Neither one of us was quite sure what the creature 
was, although we both probably had our suspicions. It 
seemed so charming, so attractive, so disarming that I 
whispered to Dewey to head it off. 

While he floundered through the underbrush, our in- 
tended quarry trotted ahead of me without accelerating 
its pace- It had an air of knowing more than I did. 
Dewey appeared in the path ahead. I closed in. But my 
outstretched hand never reached the furry body it was 
aiming at The little animal's tail flipped up. That was 
the last I saw. Gasping for breath, I was enveloped in a 
cloud of choking gas, rising from blinding liquid sprayed 
at close range. 

Dewey and I agreed later that being a skunk under 
such circumstances must be a lot of fun. 

My homecoming that evening was anything but a 
triumphal entry. The breeze was from the north and my 
approach was heralded from afar. Dewey rushed off, 
suddenly remembering his chores. Gram indignantly 



shooed me away from the kitchen door. She handed out 
clean clothes on the end of a broom and tossed me a 
cake of Ivory soap. When I appeared at the barn door, 
where Gramp was milking, he shouted: "J um pi n ' Jehose- 

"Skedaddle out o* here/' he commanded, "or yll curdle 

Disconsolately, I wandered to the lower end of the 
barnyard, buried my overalls in sand, and lathered beside 
the pasture pool. In spite of many sudsings, my hair re- 
tained more or less faint remnants of the wood-pussy's 
perfume for weeks afterward. 

"I suppose/' Gram observed as she ladled hot mush into 
my bowl that night, "I suppose you've got to learn. But I 
wish you'd do it on somebody else's farm!" 




THERE were, in those days, other forms of life which 
even more than the birds, the animals, the insects occu- 
pied my mind. They were those crawling creatures that 
"walk on their ribs/* the serpent inhabitants of the dune 

Because of its swamps and hills and wide stretches of 
wasteland, the region provided these rib-walkers with an 
ideal home. The area was good "snake country." How- 
ever, Gramp assured me that the reptiles of my day were 
but frail and ghostly descendants of the great snakes he 
had encountered when he came west as a boy Both in 



size and number they had dwindled sadly away. 

"In those days," he told me, "I often put up a cord o' 
snakes before breakfast. And it didn't have t* be good 
snake weather, either!" 

To the north of us, beyond the trees of the Lone Oak 
woods, there lay a wide sandy tract, untouched by the 
plow and given over to mullein and sandburrs. It was a 
veritable field of the serpents. Its long abandonment by 
man and the numerous tunnels of the gophers, field mice, 
and moles made it a sort of reptile paradise. 

Verne and I were attracted irresistibly to the area. We 
used to stare with mingled horror and fascination at the 
snake-tracks winding and crisscrossing on the open sand. 
Here was a sort of Garden of Eden in reverse. The ser- 
pents were living in their paradise and man was the inter- 

Most of this reptilian population consisted of harm- 
less garter snakes, blue racers, and blacksnakes. Beyond, 
where the sandy tract dipped down to an extensive stretch 
of lowland, a marsh spread out its tangled expanse as a 
special chamber of horrors. There, we had been told, 
dwelt the dreaded masassauga, or prairie rattlesnake. 

One day, as we stood looking into the thick vegetation 
of this swamp where in our heated imagination every 
tussock sheltered what Gramp called a "snaddledrake" 
Verne gave voice to a sentiment which impressed me 
greatly at the time. 

"Ef one o them there rattlers bit me/* he declared, 
"know what I'd do? I'd foller him right into that swamp. 


I wouldn't be scairt o* nothin*. I wouldn't stop 'til I'd 
stomped the life out o' him!" 

Near the eastern boundary of Lone Oak another spot 
was closely associated with a giant among the rib-walkers. 
At this place an immense maple tree lifted its symmetrical 
form above a clump of low bushes. Cattle sought its shade 
at noontime and their stamping feet had exposed a por- 
tion of the buried mat of interlacing roots. A black hole, 
with no dirt around its opening, descended mysteriously 
among these roots. 

One summer Gramp came to the house from mowing 
in the lower forty. He had sighted "the biggest snake you 
ever saw" near the giant maple. While he was hunting a 
stick, the reptile had disappeared among the bushes at the 
base of the tree. The following year Gramp saw the snake 
again, and again it vanished as before. The big serpent 
became an elusive, almost legendary reptile. 

Verne and I hunted over the region, stepping high and 
stopping in every open space to look around, with clubs 
poised for ready use. Moving through the grass, we 
swished our sticks back and forth. We made all the noise 
we could like a man descending the stairs to see if there 
are burglars in the house. 

Twice we sighted the big reptile. It seemed at least 
twenty feet long as its sinuous black body slid swiftly 
toward the maple tree. On our second encounter we were 
close enough to see it reach the mat of exposed roots. Its 
long body quickly poured itself into the hole and disap- 
peared. We poked in our sticks with no result. That af ter- 



noon we returned with a steel muskrat trap. Setting it 
carefully at the entrance to the burrow, we went away. 

Early the next morning we returned. The great black- 
snake was dead. Its head was caught in the jaws of the 
trap; its long, glistening body stretched away, limp and 
lifeless, among the exposed roots of the maple tree. In 
triumph we carried our prize to Gramp. With his folding 
pocket-rule, he measured the snake. It had a total length 
of more than seven feet. It was an old-timer and, in later 
days, we referred to it as the King of the Blacksnakes. 

Among the innumerable snake-stories which I heard or 
read at that time the one which remains most vivid in my 
mind appeared in the local weekly newspaper. During 
the early-autumn weeks the story ran on for several issues. 

In the hill country of eastern Kentucky, the first dis- 
patch reported, a gigantic serpent had been carrying off 
sheep and calves. No one had seen the reptile. But its 
trail, half as wide as a wagon-road, had been followed 
where it dragged its great coils across the countryside. 
A follow-up story told how, on another foray, the Ken- 
tucky serpent had pulled its length across a stone fence, 
leaving behind scattered boulders and a wide gap where 
it had made its passage. 

The final installment of the story related the adven- 
tures of a party of daring hunters. They had followed the 
trail of the serpent far back into the mountains. In a wild 
chasm, strewn with dead and fallen trees, the track of the 
gigantic reptile led straight to the mouth of a forbidding 
cavern. The hunters had hurriedly blocked up the en- 


trance of the cave with large boulders and then had has- 
tened away down the mountainside. Heavy snows had 
fallen shortly afterward. The following spring, the news- 
paper item declared, the men intended to return, open 
the cavern, and dispatch the giant reptile. 

Accepting the story as gospel truth, I awaited impa- 
tiently for the spring. I scanned each issue of the paper as 
soon as it arrived by mail. But no conclusion to the tale 
appeared. The editor, with the cunning of his craft, 
nimbly skipped to other matters and, so far as I know, 
no embarrassing questions about this super-serpent ever 
came from his readers. 

Even the person who is normally truthful finds diffi- 
culty in speaking truthfully about encounters with snakes. 
I recall an early instance which has returned innumerable 
times to memory. 

In my twelfth summer Gramp let me handle a team and 
plow alone for the first time. He turned me loose in a long 
field which bordered the marsh and the "island/' Here 
there were no stumps or stones to snag and the plowing 
was relatively simple. The polished share sliced through 
the black loam of the bottomlands, turning a crinkled rib- 
bon of damp glistening soil to the right as we worked 
down the long field. 

Suddenly I caught a momentary flash of a snake, 
plowed unharmed from the ground, rising from the soil 
toward me. It struck my body then wriggled rapidly away 
a common, harmless garter snake. That noon, when I 
drove the team up to the farmhouse, I was bursting with 



my great adventure. 

"I plowed up a snake and it hit me clear up on my 
chest!" I told Gram, 

"Are you sure? That seems awful high to me/* 

"Uh~huh. I know it hit me on the chest!" 

"Well, Edwin, if you say so, Tin bound to believe you. 
But," she added, "if it was anybody else, I'd have my 

At the time I was sure. I could see it in my own mind 
as plain as day. Yet, all the while, something in the back 
of my consciousness told me it wasn't true. And now I 
know, by all the laws of probability and physics, that the 
reptile could not have brushed against my legs higher 
than my knees. 

Haying time at Lone Oak was the season of the year 
when my dread of snakes reached its peak. For all the 
small dwellers in a field of timothy, what a time of terror 
and disaster haying must bring! How suddenly its blitz- 
krieg must lay waste their homeland! The mouse, the 
toad, the frog, the meadowlark, the garter snake, all see 
their familiar world dissolve in wreckage around them. 
The shuttling knives of the mower, the bouncing steel 
teeth of the rake, the sharp, gleaming tines of the pitch- 
fork, the rumbling juggernaut of the hay- wagon, all leave 
behind them death and destruction. 

I could, perhaps, sympathize more clearly with these 
small creatures because for me, too, haying-time was a 
time of apprehension and dread. On top of the load, I 
would see Gramp heave the great forkfuls of hay upward 


from the floor of the field. As each forkful soared rapidly 
closer I would imagine a reptile was riding toward me en- 
tangled in the hay. 

Nor was this fear entirely groundless. There was one 
nightmare moment on a windy day in July. We had begun 
to bring in the marsh hay from beside the Pere Marquette 
tracks that morning. Two loads had already gone into the 
mow and the third load was nearly completed. High aloft, 
I was tramping down the front of the load when Gramp 
came to the last cock in the row. 

I saw him throw his weight on the handle, driving the 
tines deep into the conical mass of hay. Then he gave a 
sudden upward heave and the mass loomed closer. Strug- 
gling with it in the wind, he landed it close beside me and 
pulled the fork away. I trampled it into place. Then I 
glanced out to where Gramp was walking on to the next 
row, his fork slung over his shoulder. A triphammer blow 
seemed to strike me in the pit of die stomach; all the blood 
in my body drained away in one moment of terror. 

In thrusting his fork into the last cock, Gramp had 
driven one of the tines through the thick body of a rattle- 
snake. It now writhed and lashed about just beyond reach 
of his shoulders. My voice came back and I screeched a 
shrill warning. The wind carried my words away. Again 
and again I screamed at the top of my voice. Gramp 
walked on without hearing my calls. 

The age-long seconds which followed had a nightmare 
quality about them the boy screaming from the high- 
piled load of hay, the man walking calmly over the field, 



the impaled rattler lashing this way and that. Finally 
Gramp sensed that the vibrations in the fork-handle were 
not the work of the wind. He glanced around. What he 
saw turned him to swift and decisive action. 

When the rattler was dead, I scrambled down from the 
load. Watching my step, and mindful of the old adage 
that rattlers always go in twos, I approached and gazed 
on the formidable body. Gramp went calmly on with his 
work. As for me, that experience returned, magnified and 
embellished, in snake nightmares which haunted me in 
ensuing years. 

My dread of snakes was abnormal. It was more than 
physical fear. In my mind these dread creatures seemed 
to possess supernatural powers, to lead a charmed life, to 
be immune to the laws which governed other living 
things. The amazement which I felt when I killed my first 
rattler, and discovered how easily it met its death, remains 
a vivid memory. 

I was raking hay in a lower field when I caught the 
sharp rattle of the serpent. For an instant I saw it. Then 
it disappeared as though the ground had swallowed it up 
which in truth, it had. Gramp brought a shovel and I 
stood ready with a long-handled post-hole digger. With 
his first thrust of the spade, Gramp uncovered the burrow 
in which the snake had taken refuge. Out it came, tail 
vibrating and fiat head raised. 

Gramp struck at it with the spade and missed. The ser- 
pent coiled. Swinging the post-hole digger as though I 
were slaying a bullock, I crashed it down on the coiled 


reptile. Gramp gave a screech of dismay as he foresaw 
the fate of his post-hole digger. There was a splintering 
crash. The oak handle had snapped in two from the force 
of the blow. I had expected a desperate struggle, many 
blows, in dispatching so formidable an enemy. I stared in 
amazement. One blow, a small fraction as great as the one 
I had delivered, would have ended the life of even the 
largest diamondback. 

I would like to say that in that moment of realization 
of the essential frailty of this great enemy of mine my fears 
vanished forever. But this was not true. The haunted vi- 
sions of early years had worn too deep a trail across my 
mind to be erased in a single day. Decades of gradual 
change effected a return to reason. But, even today, when 
I can view a snake in the open without alarm, a harmless 
serpent weaving through grass and weeds stirs to life an 
emotion of panic which is the heritage of bygone days. 

"We all know/' wrote the French philosopher, Blaise 
Pascal, "that the sight of a reptile . . . will at times ut- 
terly overpower a man's reason. Place the profoundest 
philosopher that ever lived on a plank even wider than 
need be, and if there be a precipice below, while reason 
proves his safety, imagination will prevail/* 

Many years after the experiences related in this chapter 
I spent a day with Dr. Raymond L. Ditmars at his reptile 
house in the Bronx Zoo. I watched him milk the venom 
from cottonmouths and diamondbacks. I saw him han- 
dling cobras and copperheads. By understanding their 
natures, and by applying his knowledge, he was master of 



a huge collection of varied reptiles. 

I left him late in the afternoon, after mustering up 
courage to handle a harmless snake myself. I felt that my 
early fears were finally gone. My mind henceforth would 
be master of my old emotions. Then, as I was making my 
way out in the dim light of a corridor behind the serpent 
cages, I stepped on a length of rubber hose. The cata- 
mount screech and the gazelle-leap that followed were 
automatic. Like Pascal's philosopher, my mind had been 
convinced but my imagination still prevailed. 




DAWN-MIST lay on the lowlands. The clean, sweet smeU 
of the morning fields filled the air. And all across the wide 
strawberry patch dew-drops edged the heart-shaped 
leaves and glinted in the rising sun. Gramp and I had be- 
gun picking at five o'clock in the morning. Gray smoke, 
trailing upward from the kitchen chimney, told us that 
Gram was cooking breakfast. 

Strawberries, together with asparagus, brought in the 
earliest revenue of the season at Lone Oak. Then, about 
the Fourth of July, came the early rose potatoes. They 
were followed by the red Astrakhan apples and the grain 



harvest. Finally came the fall crops, the pumpkins., corn, 
turnips, squash, late potatoes and autumn apples. Each 
June Gramp shipped hundreds of crates of strawberries 
to the market in Chicago. 

As I worked down my first row, moving ahead on hands 
and knees that soon were dripping with dew, I remem- 
bered the beginning of that favorite of my childhood 
books, Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. So many 
times had I read it, and had it read to me, that I could 
quote pages on end from memory. Now I recalled the 
dawn-scene in the first chapter when all the strange ad- 
ventures began for Tom, the little chimney-sweep, and 
Grimes, his master; when they set out for the great coun- 
try estate and: 

"Grimes rode the donkey in front, and Tom and the 
brushes walked behind out of the court, and up the 
street, past the closed window-shutters, and the winking 
weary policemen, and the roofs all shining gray in the 
gray dawn. They passed through the pitmen's village . . . 
and then they were out in the real country. The road grew 
white, and the walls likewise; and at the wall's foot grew 
long grass and gay flowers, all drenched with dew; and 
instead of the groaning of the pit-engine, they heard the 
skylark saying his matins high up in the air, and the pit- 
bird warbling in the sedges/' 

Around us, too, as we filled the thin-walled wooden 
boxes with red berries, the dawn chorus of the birds rose 
from fence and tree and bush. Before breakfast we had 


picked nearly a crate between us. From then until late 
afternoon, the picking went on at top speed. Gram helped 
us. A Polish family from across the lowland marsh arrived 
with a troop of children to aid in the berry harvest. 
Gramp nailed up the cases as they were filled and placed 
them in the shade. We all carried four or eight boxes in 
handled wooden carriers and when we delivered them 
filled to Gramp we received little colored slips of card- 
board red and blue and yellow marked "4 QUARTS/' 
"8 QUARTS," or "16 QUARTS." These slips, about an 
inch and a half by an inch in size, formed the currency of 
the strawberry fields. Later they could be transformed 
into coin of the realm, the rate of payment being a cent 
and a half a quart or ? late in the season when berries 
grew scarce, two cents a quart. 

As the sun climbed higher and the heat increased, my 
trips to the cellar pump became more frequent. Some- 
times Gram would bring out a quart Mason jar in a pail 
of cold spring water. The jar would be filled with home- 
made ginger ale or root beer, a beverage which brought 
to mind woodland tastes of sassafras twig-tips and 
wintergreen berries. Rut even with these aids the chore 
grew more and more tiresome. 

I remember one afternoon when the largest of the 
Polish boys, a hulking boy-man of fifteen, stood up sud- 
denly and said in a loud voice to his mother picking be- 
side him: "I won't pick!" 

Without saying a word, his mother swung her right arm 



in a sweeping arc. The slap resounded across the straw- 
berry patch. The boy said: "I will pick!" and bent to his 
task again. 

As the afternoon advanced, Gramp would try to spur us 
on. The "Strawberry Express" left Furnessville, a mile and 
a half away on the Michigan Central Railroad, at five- 
thirty. From two o'clock onward he would say at intervals : 

" 'S'bout train time. Better hurry up!" 

From four o'clock on the pressure increased. The horses 
stood waiting, hitched to the light cracker-wagon. Crates 
were loaded in; the final quarts came hurrying in from the 
field; the last crate-cover was nailed in place and the last 
rubber stamp slammed down on the final crate before it 
took its place on top of the others. Then Gramp and I 
would jump into the driver's seat, Gramp would look at 
his big gold watch for a final time and away we would go 
in a cloud of dust. The picking was over for the day. 

But the main excitement was only beginning. It was this 
race against time to which I had looked forward during 
the dreariest part of the day. Gramp, in common with the 
other strawberry-raisers of the region, had the trip to the 
station timed to the second. Up Bert's hill, down and 
across the tracks, past Asa Colgrove's and Jim Forbes' and 
Lewrey's store. By now the distant whistle of the train 
would be sounding for Smith's crossing, behind us. The 
last eighth of a mile was made with sound and fury in bil- 
lowing clouds of dust. It was like the chariot race in Ben 
Hur. As we pulled up with horses snorting and covered 
with sweat, other wagons were piling into the narrow 


confines o the station yard. The train slowed. With spurt- 
ing puffs of white steam, it ground to a stop. 

For the next ten minutes all was confusion. Nat, the 
local station-agent, rushed from pile to pile, making out 
express bills for the shipments. He hopped about, the per- 
sonification of excitement. His excitability was a synonym 
in the region. Every time a train came in, even if only 
one passenger got aboard, he bustled about as though he 
had more to do than he could handle. With the flood of 
strawberries descending on him at the last minute, he was 
almost beside himself. Trainmen shouted for him to hurry 
and local inhabitants drooped themselves over the station- 
fence to watch the fun. 

Eventually all the crates had disappeared into the door- 
ways of the express cars and the "Strawberry Special/* 
with its single passenger car at the back, puffed off down 
the tracks toward Porter. The effect was something like 
that of the falling sky-rocket what had started in shoot- 
ing clouds of fire descended a burned-out stick. So the 
excitement suddenly went out of the station-yard with 
the departure of the train. Onlookers left the fence and 
strolled toward home. Farmers climbed into their wagons 
and turned the heads of their horses out into the sand-road. 
Nat, with a final warning repeated from the day before 
and the day before that that he would not accept any 
crates that didn't arrive well before traintime, wiped his 
streaming brow and disappeared through the doorway of 
his green-and-white station a tiny structure with a dark 
interior which exhaled the odor of kerosene lamps and 



stale tobacco smoke and which resounded to the metallic 
and mysterious sound of the clicking telegraph, 

Nat had been station-master for nearly thirty years. A 
short man, he habitually wore roomy clothes which often 
made him look as wide as he was high. His gray beard 
spread out over his chest as he walked along with head 
bent and his hands clasped behind him. Years later, when 
he was nearing retirement age, the station at Furnessville 
was closed because of dwindling patronage and Nat was 
given a job tending a crossing in a near-by city until his 
pension-age arrived. 

Here his excitable nature flourished in fertile ground. 
He used to lean from his tower, almost tumbling to the 
ground, as he shouted and gesticulated to reckless motor- 
ists who sped across the tracks as the gates descended. 
The crossing soon became one of the show-places of the 
town and when Nat was pensioned he was greatly missed. 

In his early years Nat had fallen in love with a farmer's 
daughter and was engaged to be married. Before the date 
of the ceremony an itinerant evangelist stopped at the 
village. The religious fervor of one of the meetings was so 
intense it affected the nerves of the young girl. Through- 
out the rest of her life she was subject to fits of nervous 
disorder. Nat said he had promised to marry her and he 
would. For forty years and more he provided her with 
the best he could afford, faithful to his ideal of conduct. 

As express-trains thundered through the deserted vil- 
lage where the unused station stood, during the latter 
years of Nat's life, conductors used to throw off daily 


papers at his dooryard as a mark of respect. His heart 
bothered him a good deal during his last years. He used 
to walk slowly, like Conrad's Ransome, not daring to wake 
the wrath of this mortal enemy it was his bad fortune to 
carry within his breast. Yet each night he would walk 
slowly across the tracks to a neighboring farmhouse and 
return with a quart of fresh milk. This was the one luxury 
he permitted himself out of his small pension. The milk 
provided a nightly feast for a horde of half -wild cats that 
lived under his woodpile. 

After the excitement of delivering the strawberries was 
over, Gramp and I would ride slowly back down the sand- 
road in the direction of Lone Oak. At Lewrey's store we 
would pull up and tie Deck and Colty to the iron pipe 
which ran through four heavy posts. Then we would enter 
the cavernous interior. Crossing the threshold was like 
entering some Valhalla of the sense of smell. Our nostrils 
were assailed by a thousand and one odors mingling to- 
gether the mysterious smell of spice and coffee, com- 
modities from tropical lands, of coal oil and sugar and 
cheese and crackers and vinegar and overalls and rubber 
boots. Saws and axes hung in a corner and shelves held 
everything from bolts of calico to lamp-chimneys packed 
in excelsior. 

All these items of exchange meant nothing to me. My 
rapt attention rarely wandered from the rows of glass jars 
which reproduced the rainbow in confection form. While 
Gramp bought himself a package of long-cut and filled 
his pipe with the slow deliberation of a man whose main 



work for the day was over, I deliberated between the 
various jars of stick candy between the barber-pole de- 
sign of the peppermint sticks, the pale yellow of the 
lemon, the bright red of the cinnamon, the black of the 
licorice, and the pale-green of the lime. 

My decision reached, my purchases made, we climbed 
once more into the wagon and let the tired horses set their 
own pace toward the farmhouse gate. Gramp puffed con- 
tentedly on his pipe and I sampled each of my candy- 
flavors in turn. In the soft June dusk we rode on, at peace 
with the world. Ahead, on the following day, lay further 
excitement the excitement of catching another straw- 
berry train. 




DURING the strawberry season, when my back began 
to ache with stooping, I used to relieve the monotony by 
begging Gram to tell for the hundredth time how she 
saw the hoopsnake. 

Her memory of that event improved with the years and 
each re-telling of the story brought forth some fresh, cor- 
roborative detail. I would exclaim in delight: 
"You never told me that before!" 
And Gram would answer in all sincerity: 
"I just remembered it It conies back now as dear as 


D U N E B O Y 

The story always started out the same and I desired no 
other beginning. 

"It was in the early days/' Gram would say, "long be- 
fore you were born. Deer lived here then and a few re- 
maining Indians. Father had planted his first strawberry 
patch on the slope near the spring." 

"The same spring we have now?" I would ask, seeking 
to stretch out the story. 

"Yes, the very same spring. A hayfield ran along the 
eastern edge of the berry patch. Well, one June day we 
were picking berries there. I remember I had a tin pail 
full and was just straightening up when I saw the snake/* 

"Was it really rolling along like a wheel?" 

"No, it was crawling along like any other snake when 
I first saw it. It was blackish and about six feet long. It 
was coming straight for us. As I stood up, it saw me and 
turned toward the hayfield. It ran along the edge, just 
inside the grass, and as it went its head kept rising higher 
and higher, and just below where the pasture fence is 
now it grabbed its tail in its mouth and rolled away like 
a hoop out of sight. I was so excited, I remember, I tipped 
over the whole pail of berries and had to pick them up 

"Did you see it too, Gramp?" I always wanted to know. 

"Well, kind uv/ ? he would reply judiciously. "But 
Mother saw 't best/* 

I used to query Gramp in private about that "kind uv/* 
But all he would volunteer was: "Yer gran-maw wouldn't 
tell a lie. Ef she says she saw *t roll, she probly did at 


least, I'm sartin she thinks she did/' 

Gram was not the only one in the dune country ready 
to swear to a first-hand glimpse of a hoopsnake. These 
legendary rolling reptiles were commonplace in the folk- 
lore of the time and the region. Wherever an erroneous 
belief, such as the idea of hoopsnakes or of reptiles that 
swallow their young, gains wide acceptance, there must 
be some explanation in accord with facts. My belief is 
that the hoopsnake story had its origin in the ability of 
blue racers and blacksnakes to run along the ground with 
their heads lifted for a surprising distance into the air. 

When fleeing through tall grass, such snakes sometimes 
lift their heads higher and higher, the better to see or sense 
their foes. Possibly glimpses of these reptiles speeding 
through the waving grass, with heads held so high they 
seemed bending backward, have given rise to the wide- 
spread belief in rolling hoopsnakes. 

Similarly that other perennial among serpent miscon- 
ceptions the belief that mother snakes swallow their 
young when danger approaches may have a simple and 
logical explanation. When close to the mouth of the bur- 
row, the mother serpent may take her stand, with her head 
weaving and held close to the ground and her moutib 
opening in repeated menacing movements, while the little 
reptiles wriggle down to the comparative safety of their 
underground retreat. To the excited observer the little 
snakes disappearing suddenly from sight would ap- 
pear to be rushing into the open mouth of their mother. 
In fact, instead of their mother, it is the ground which 



swallows them up. 

An interesting instance, illustrating how superstitions 
start and false premises have their beginning, occurred a 
mile or so from Lone Oak several years before I appeared 
on die scene. 

On a back-road farm a woman was looking for eggs laid 
in out-of-the-way places about the barnyard. Coming to 
a great hollow stump, she leaned over to look inside. A 
huge "puff adder" was coiled within. With a great hiss, 
it blew its cloud of "poisonous vapor" directly into her 
face. The frightened woman ran to the house. On the back 
of the stove she noticed some neglected toast which had 
burned to a crisp. She started eating the charred bread, in 
her distraction, and in a few minutes felt better. The 
burned toast had proved a miraculous antidote it had 
neutralized the venom of the adder! 

The story of her escape from death was repeated many 
times in my boyhood. Burned toast was accepted by 
numerous people in the region as a sure-cure for the 
vapor-poison of the puff adder. The weak link in this 
circumstantial story, as I learned in later years, is the fact 
that there isn't any puff-adder poison. In fact, there isn't 
any puff adder! 

The great hiss which the woman heard was formed by 
harmless air; the deadly adder she saw was simply that 
poor, pitiful pretender, the hog-nosed snake. No more 
venomous than a kitchen mouse, this reptile tries to 
frighten its enemies with sound and fury signifying noth- 
ing. If they are not intimidated., it flops over on its back 


and feigns death. This, then, was the sinister, deadly mon- 
ster which burned toast had miraculously conquered! 

How other erroneous beliefs in the realm of natural 
history, which were current in the dune country at that 
time, came into being, I do not know. But they were 
spread, by word of mouth, until acceptance seemed uni- 
versal. Undoubtedly many were brought to America from 
the Old Country as representatives of many races lived 
on the farms of the region. Most of the time, Gramp and 
Gram quoted folklore beliefs with their tongues in then- 
cheeks. But there were neighbors who clung firmly to the 
old opinion that bats come down chimneys at, night to 
dine on ham; that snakes suck milk from cows; that a 
butterfly alighting on a person's head means good luck is 
coming and that a bird flying into a house indicates im- 
portant news is on the way. 

I remember one Sunday morning when Gram was ener- 
getically swatting houseflies with a folded-up piece of 

"That," said Gramp, looking up from his Chesterton 
Tribune, "makes four hun'red more flies yer bringin* t' th* 
house. Y've jest killed forty flies an' every time y kill a 
fly, ten more come t' its funeral!" 

Odd beliefs about insects were many. In numerous 
ways they were supposed to affect the fortunes of humans. 
Dream of ants, one superstition stated, and prosperity 
would come your way. See a ladybug in the house in 
winter, another declared, and you would receive as many 
dollars as there were spots on the insect's back. A honey- 



bee buzzing around your head was supposed to indicate 
a letter was on its way. A measuring worm crawling on a 
man's shoulder was "measuring him for a shroud." If the 
same moth larva found its way along a woman's hand, it 
was "measuring her for new gloves/' Thousand-legged 
worms were thought to crawl into babies' ears and to 
make them crazy. And dragonflies usually known as 
darning needles were likely, many people affirmed, to 
sew up the ears of children. 

These swift and beautiful insects were associated with 
numerous other superstitions. They were thought to feed 
and to doctor snakes and, according to some people, to 
sting horses. When a country boy went fishing in a place 
where dragonflies were numerous, he found himself be- 
tween the horns of a dilemma. If a dragonfly alighted on 
his pole, it meant the fish wouldn't bite; if he injured a 
dragonfly, it meant he would have bad luck. 

In the lower pasture, near the spring, large numbers of 
great, tender mushrooms pushed their way above the 
ground each summer. Gram and I sometimes picked a 
milkpail full in a quarter of an hour while the morning 
dew was still on the grass. After removing and discarding 
the upper skins, Gram would fry them in butter on the 
kitchen range. When Grarnp came in from his chores, we 
all would enjoy a special treat for breakfast. While we 
picked the mushrooms in the cool fresh air of the dawn, 
Gram often told me stories or recalled the queer beliefs 
she had encountered when she first came west. 

A sliver off a hog-trough, many inhabitants of the region 


thought, was a sure-cure for a sty. Anyone who saw a boy 
with his shirttail hanging out would be sure to find a letter 
waiting for him the next time he went to the post office. 
If a person's ears grew close to his head, it meant he was 
stingy; if a person had a large nose, it indicated he pos- 
sessed a generous nature. In setting the table, if anyone 
made a mistake and put two knives and no fork at a plate, 
it presaged a funeral in the family. If, on the other hand, 
there were two forks and no knife, it indicated the ap- 
proach of a wedding. Anyone who started off on an errand 
or a journey and forgot something and had to return, 
should always sit on a chair before starting out again 
otherwise bad luck would follow. 

These beliefs, and many more I cannot now recall, were 
ones that Gram heard in early days. Of all such folklore 
oddities the ones that interested me most were those 
which related to the living creatures of the fields and 

"Straddle-Bugs," as Gramp called the harvestmen or 
daddy-longlegs, were thought to have some mystic con- 
nection with cattle. Kill a daddy-longlegs, a popular 
superstition had it, and your cows would go dry. Many a 
farm-boy, in the dune country, tried the time-honored 
procedure of holding one of these grandf ather-graybeards 
by two of its legs and noting the direction the others 
pointed in order to obtain a clew as to the direction taken 
by strayed cattle. 

One summer night, as Gram was reading When Wilder- 
ness Was King and Gramp and I sat on the front porch 



outside the screen door, Gramp suddenly exclaimed: 

"Listen! There's th' first katydid o* th' year. They say 
it's just six weeks t' frost from th* time y hear the first 

Other humble creatures were also imagined to be re- 
lated in some way to the weather. In autumn the sight of 
a woolly-bear caterpillar hurrying across an open space 
indicated that an early winter was on its way. Some coun- 
try-people maintained, in addition, that you could tell 
whether the early winter would be mild or severe by 
examining the central band around its body. A wide band 
meant a severe winter; a narrow band, a mild one. 

"Step on a spider," Gramp used to quote a superstition 
of the time, "an' it'll rain next day." 

"What if you step on a spider on a rainy day?" I once 

"Then yll hev two days o* rain in succession." 

Stepping on a cricket was also thought to bring on a 
rainstorm. I remember that I used to be puzzled by the 
fact that even the people who quoted this belief never 
put the prescription to the test by stepping on crickets 
during a drought. 

"All signs fail in dry weather," Gramp explained in an- 
swer to my question. 



LIKE die English village of Selborne, immortalized by 
Gilbert White, Lone Oak and the community around it 
was singularly isolated although also like Selborne it 
lay hardly more than half a hundred miles from a great 
center of population. Poor roads discouraged the casual 
visitor. Teams labored through the sand and travel was 
slow and burdensome. Only later, with the coming of the 
automobile in numbers and the improvement of the high- 
ways, did the outside world sweep in. 

At the time I was a boy the community was composed 
largely of early settlers, of pioneers, of men and women 



who had lived and matured as individuals. They were un- 
molded by advertising, by magazines, by movies, by the 
radio, or even by extended formal schooling. It was nat- 
ural, under such conditions, that a number of the inhabit- 
ants should be unconventional and unique. Eccentricities 
were taken for granted and "characters" abounded. 

Not far from the little station at Furnessville ? old Aunt 
Mary lived in a rambling frame house set amid maple 
trees on a hill. She was positive that no house in which she 
lived would ever burn down. 

One late-summer day, when the whole countryside was 
like tinder from a prolonged drought, Gramp stopped in 
to see Aunt Mary. He found her calmly burning trash in 
a low-roofed annex to the kitchen. The pot-bellied stove 
was cherry red. All around it were high piles of old papers 
as dry as bleached bones. Nor was that all. A small section 
of the vertical stovepipe was entirely missing. Shooting 
flames were streaming from the lower opening, jumping 
the gap, and like a thread entering a needle's eye 
pouring into the open end of the pipe above. 

"Jtimpin' Jehosephat!" Gramp shouted. "Yer goin* t* 
burn yerself t ? a cinder!" 

Aunt Mary rocked placidly back and forth and added 
more papers to the blaze. 

"Don't y worry, Uncle Ed," she told him. "Ez long as 
Tm livin* in this house, it'll never burn down/' 

Nor did it. 

The farmer who occupied the place next to Aunt Mary's 
was tall and stooped. He had watery blue eyes and a corn- 


cob pipe was as much a feature of his countenance as his 
nose or eyebrows. Except on Sunday; he was clad in an- 
cient clothing at variance with his bank account. Once he 
caught sight of a tramp leaving the railroad tracks and 
starting for his house to beg a meal He sauntered down 
the path to meet him. 

"Coin' t' ask fer somethin* t' eat?" he inquired. 


" "Tain't no use. I just come from there. Th* lady 
wouldn't give me a thing/* 

As the tramp disappeared down the track, he returned, 
chuckling, to the house. 

At the time of which I write "The Man with the Green 
Hair" was already becoming one of the legendary char- 
acters of the dune country. Known as "Old Sile/ 7 he lived 
with his wife in a dugout at the foot of a sandhill. Where 
he came from nobody knew. He never spoke of his youth 
or of his early home. In spite of his poverty, he had 
polished manners and spoke excellent English with the 
aid of a wide vocabulary. His wife used to say in a stage 

"Silas is very smart. He kin talk on almost any subject/* 

In place of a watch, Old Sile used to wear a small alarm 
clock supported by a steel muskrat-trap chain which en- 
circled his neck. And in the crown of his hat he had a 
large flat piece of copper. As the years went by the effect 
of perspiration on the copper dyed his hair a bright green. 
The metal, Old Sile was convinced, enabled him to pick 
up electric waves ninning through the air. By sitting on 



the top of a sandhill, he said, he could hear everything 
that was being said in Congress. At Lewre/s Store, at 
night, he used to tell what was going on in Washington 
things that never reached the papers. 

In later years Old Sile believed that enemies were seek- 
ing to steal his great discovery. He invested part of his 
scanty savings in a bulletproof vest and used to wear this 
garment under four shirts, one on top of the other. Ob- 
sessed by the idea he might be poisoned, he refused to 
taste food in any other house than his own with one ex- 
ception. That was Lone Oak. He trusted Gram completely 
and would eat or drink anything she set before him. 

The distinguished man of the community was Edwin 
L. Furness, for whom Furnessville was named. He had 
moved to Indiana in the early days with a good educa- 
tion and sufficient capital to establish a sawmill and vari- 
ous other enterprises. He was known as "The Gentleman 
Farmer/" He had a private library and his four-story home 
was the only brick house in the region. The bricks were 
made from clay dug on his own farm. A magic gate, which 
opened and closed by itself, was the feature of the drive- 
way which led up the hill to the big red house. I used to 
examine with the greatest of interest the system of levers 
and treadles by means of which the wheels of an ap- 
proaching vehicle swung open the gate and the wheels 
of a departing one closed it. 

In the front yard of the Furness place, a vast expanse of 
green descending the slope of the hill, I learned one of 
the important lessons of my life. At Lone Oak, as I have 


indicated, my labors were desultory and haphazard. I was 
the Star Boarder. But, I always said to myself, if I ever 
got a real job and somebody was paying me money for my 
labors, I would work hard and tend strictly to business. 
There would be no leaning on the hoe-handle or lying in 
the shade. 

One day, as we were passing the Furness place, the 
owner, then a slight, elderly man with a snow-white beard 
trimmed to a point, asked me if I would like to earn some 
money the next day by mowing the big front lawn. I 
agreed and by seven o'clock the following morning I was 
riding my bicycle up the driveway. This was my first pay- 
ing job. I was no longer working for Gramp and under his 
beneficent ways. This was the test. I was going to make 

I started in at top speed and for more than an hour I 
used sickle and scythe to good effect. When I walked to 
the spring-house for a drink, I hurried back to my labors. 
The second trip to the spring-house took longer and the 
third time I sat down in the cool shade to rest. Long be- 
fore noon I was working at low speed and guiltily enjoy- 
ing pauses at increasingly frequent intervals. The after- 
noon was one long stretch of conscious defeat. I was 
following the well-worn path of my everyday conduct My 
habits were stronger than my determination. I learned 
that day that the way I handled little things would prob- 
ably be the way I would handle big things, that my action 
during commonplace days gave a key to my action during 



Another of those enduring lessons of childhood had 
come a little earlier at the Lone Oak grindstone. Helping 
Gramp sharpen the ax was one of the jobs for which I was 
corralled from time to time. Very few minutes would pass 
before my bitter complaints would rise above the shrill 
whining of the ax. 

"Cramp, my back's busted!" 

"Can't be. YVe hardly started." 

"But it is, honest" 

"Nobody ever broke his back turnin' a grindstone/* 

"I have." 

"No y y haven't. Rest yerself by restin' a little more 
weight on th' handle when y' turn. An' save yer breath." 

I would subside and begin counting the turns. One, 
two, three, four. One, two, three, four . . . 

"Gramp, you're riding too hard on the ax!" 

"If I don't press down it'll take twfst as long/* 

"Why can't I hold the ax and you turn?" 

"Y' have t' know how t' hold th ? ax/' 

"I know how. I've been watching you. Let me try/* 

"Nope. We got f git done right away. Do y always have 
t* quit turnin' when y' talk?" 

After a hundred or so more turns I would begin on the 
oldest of all boy stratagems. 


"What now?" 

"Know what I think?" 


"I think you couldn't keep this grindstone turning as 


long as I have." 

"Humph! I used t* keep a stone goin' all day long when 
I was knee-high t* a grasshopper!" 

"Yes. Well, let's see you do it now!'* 

Only once did he fall for this line of tactics. 

"All right," he said finally. "Yer so all-fired anxious t' 
hold th* ax, go ahead an 5 see what happens." 

He spun the wheel until little drops of water shot out 
like sparks from an emery wheel and I pressed down on 
the ax. 

"Y* can't do all th* sharpenm* on the last quarter-inch," 
he reminded me. "Y' have t' start further back. An* y* have 
t' bear down. Y aren't puttin' on enough weight t* squash 
a mosquito." 

I put on weight. A moment later I shifted the ax awk- 
wardly. A corner, already sharpened, struck the spinning 
wheel. The resulting gouge ruined the work and I re- 
turned ignominiously to the handle. Ruminating as I 
turned, I realized fully for the first time the importance 
of knowledge and skill. Throughout life, I saw, it was 
Skill that rode the ax and Unskill that turned the grind- 

Across the road from the big, red-brick, hilltop house 
of the Furnesses lived Ed Morgan. He was a substan- 
tial citizen of the community, a descendant of one of its 
founders. Solid and chunky, he was up winter and sum- 
mer at 5:30 A. M., on the dot. 

"My aim in life," he once explained, "has always been, 
th' same f git more land." 



Acre by acre he added more land to his spreading farm. 
Taxes rose and the land became a burden. He tried to sell 
and could find no buyers. During his latter years he lived 
in a big, frame house in the midst of his many acres with 
the feeling that things were slipping away from him, were 
going from bad to worse. However, his head was never 
bowed nor his spirit of fierce independence broken. Once, 
when he was well past seventy, I was driving back through 
the dune country, along the old familiar roads, when I 
overtook him plodding in the direction of the interurban 
station. I pulled up and invited him to get in. 

"Edwin," he said, "I can walk. But I'd be ever so much 
obliged fer a ride/* 

Several farms to the east of Lone Oak a green house 
stood at the top of a small rise. Here lived Dan Sterns. He 
had been a bachelor until he was long past forty. Finally, 
to everyone's surprise, he brought home a bride from the 
other side of Michigan City. As soon as the honeymoon 
was over, his wife began taking him in hand. When he 
approached the kitchen door she would shout: 

"Wipe off yer feet! An' take off yer hat!" 

Soon it became known that she kept a little whip in her 
lap at mealtime. If Dan reached too far or started to pour 
his tea in his saucer, she would switch his hands. One noon 
Gramp stopped on his way home from town to see about 
some seed corn. Dan was coming disconsolately down the 
kitchen steps as Grarnp drove into the yard. He had just 
had dinner under the watchful eye of his wife. 

"Ed," he burst out, "eatin* ain't eatin* ef a feller can't 


eat Waters with his knife!" 

The postmaster at Furnessville was a mild-eyed, in- 
offensive man related to that swashbuckling Wall-Street 
plunger, "Bet-You-a-Million*' Gates. His name was Henry. 
He was thin-faced and had a straggly moustache. He al- 
ways tipped his hat from the back instead of from the 
front. A bachelor, he lived alone with his mother, who 
attained the age of ninety and was out of her mind for 
many of the later years of her life. Several times each night 
she would get up under the impression that morning had 
come. Henry would put her back to bed, explaining: 

"It isn't morning yet. It's time everybody was in bed/' 

"Why aren't you in bed then?" she would always ask. 

Checker-playing was Henry *s one avocation. He and a 
crony would be absorbed in a game in a small room back 
of the combined post-office and store when a woman 
would come in to make some purchases. Henry would say; 

"Sh! Let's keep quiet an* mebby she'll go away/' 

He was the nadir of high-pressure salesmanship. He 
cared little whether people bought anything or not. At 
sixty-five he was without a wrinkle in his brow. From the 
windows of his little store he watched the world go by 
speeding east and west on the long passenger trains which 
roared without a stop, through Furnessville. 

Half-way to the station, on days when we were rush- 
ing to meet the Strawberry Train, we used to pass a frame 
house with a sandhill rising behind it. A great bite seemed 
to have been taken out of one side of the dune. The previ- 
ous owner had considered the sandhill the one blemish 



on the face of his farm. When he was nearing sixty lie set 
to work with shovel and wheelbarrow. He had determined 
to haul the whole dune away and dump it in a neighbor- 
ing swamp. 

Month after month, and year after year, he put in his 
spare time wheeling and grunting, continuing his seem- 
ingly endless task. Yet only a small fraction of the great 
hill of sand had been transported when death relieved him 
of his self-imposed labors. 

His son, Alf, moved into the house and made a living, 
as best he could, from the farm's arid acres. Years went by 
and sandburrs and milkweed began to encroach on the 
open scar on the side of the hill. Then, one day, a stranger 
stopped at the farmhouse. He explained that he repre- 
sented a group of Chicago artists who wished to establish 
a painting colony in the dune country. He was authorized, 
he said, to pay as high as $10,000 for the place. The pic- 
turesque sand-dune had attracted the artists to the farm! 

At Lewrey's Store, that night, Alf told of the offer. His 
neighbors set up a roar of laughter. 

"The man's either a swindler or he's crazy/' they told 
him. "You'll never see th' money." 

"Well, he looked honest/' was all Alf could say. 

"Lookin* honest ain't enough!" 

But Alf did get the $10,000 in cold cash. He and his 
wife moved away to Michigan City. For forty years they 
had been forced to live on a pinchpenny, church-mouse 
diet. Now they could afford all the food they wanted. 
Three months later his wife died, the doctor said from 


the sudden change to rich and plentiful food. At first Alf 
used to hire a taxicab to bring him back to the old farm 
just to feed a horde of cats and the seven dogs he had had 
to leave behind him. Then someone poisoned the dogs, Alf 
quit coming back, and we saw him no more. 




A HANDFUL of green grass sifted through my fingers 
onto the yellow flame of a twig fire. Sudden smoke, gray 
and acrid, billowed up. In the gathering twilight Gramp 
and I were sitting beside the driveway, enjoying the cool 
of the early evening. Bats zigzagged past overhead and 
the cries of whippoorwills and nighthawks carried from 
afar. Nearer, just beyond the smoke of our smudge fire, 
we could hear the high humming of the mosquitoes. 

A cranefly drifted past me, its long legs trailing. I 
ducked. At Lone Oak we assumed that these harmless in- 
sects were, in reality, huge mosquitoes and we called 


them gallinippers. The sight of the cranefly reminded 
Gramp of Mr. Bump and of his encounter with the world's 
biggest mosquito. 

"One time," he said, "Mr. Bump stopped at a tavern an' 
fell in with two strangers. Both o' 'em were little fellers, 
no bigger 'n a bar o' soap after a hard day's wash. But 
they was big talkers. All three o' 'em began swappin' lies. 
The first stranger said: 

" 'Where I come from the soil is so rich everythin' 
grows extra-big. I once raised a cabbage so big that when 
a rainstorm came up I drove my team an' my lumber 
wagon under one side o' thet cabbage an' not a drop o' 
rain touched us!' 

** "Thet certainly was a big cabbage!' says th' second 
stranger. "I never saw anything like it. But I'll tell y what 
I did see. One time I passed an iron works where a thou- 
san' men were workin' on one iron kettle. An' thet kettle 
was so large thet each man was so far away from his near- 
est neighbor thet he couldn't make him hear by yellin' 
his loudest!' 

** 'Well,' said the first man, 'thet was a big kettle. What 
was they goin' t* do with it?' 

" 'Cook your cabbage!' 

"Then Mr. Bump spoke up. He said: 

** 'Gentlemen, this is strange indeed. I was one of the 
workmen on thet very kettle! An' a curious thing hap- 
pened t' ine when 't was almost finished. As I was leavin' 
work one evenin' th' biggest gallinipper in all th' world 
took out after me. I ran under th' iron kettle an' thet 



skeeter bored right through th* side. I grabbed a sledge- 
hammer an* pounded away 'til I clinched its beak over 
inside th* kettle. Then I ran t ? git a cannon f kill th ? galli- 
nipper. But ? pon my honor, gentlemen, I hadn't gone a 
hundred yards before diet mosquito flew off with th' 

When my laughter and Cramp's chuckles had died 
away, we remained silent listening to the first fiddling of 
the night insects. Crickets chirped from the grass-tangles. 
Katydids, among the bushes, began their endless affirma- 
tions and denials. The mellow notes of the snowy tree 
crickets carried from die grape arbor. And, away across 
the meadows and marshland, the shrill orchestration of 
the nocturnal grasshoppers grew in volume. 

As each night advanced, the shrilling of these insects 
rose to a crescendo. To anyone unfamiliar with its source, 
the vast, ear-piercing tumult would have been a cause 
for quakings and alarm. Years before, a distant relative 
from Chicago, a young woman who had never spent a 
night out of the city before, came to stay a week at Lone 
Oak. The next morning she took the train back to Chicago. 
She had spent a night of terror, assailed by a shrill con- 
fusion of wild and direful sounds outside her window. 

My introduction to the insects, like that of most peo- 
ple, began with the less-desirable species the biting 
flies and the lance-beaked mosquitoes. They sought rne 
out It was only later that I grew to know their many shy 
and beautiful, harmless and endlessly interesting rela- 
tives. I have told in another volume, Grassroot Jungles, 


of my first memorable vision of insect beauty, when I 
came upon two ethereal creatures, pale green and with 
flowing ribbon-tails, clinging to the leaves of the grape 
arbor. These luna moths seemed like delicate dancers 
from some Cinderella's ball. 

In a lower hay-field one summer, when I was helping 
turn over red clover, I encountered another gorgeous 
moth of the night, a Polyphemus with a wingspread of 
nearly half a foot. The hawk moths, which hung on vibrat- 
ing wings while their sucking tongues longer than their 
bodies uncurled and plumbed the depths of the trumpet- 
shaped flowers in Gram's front yard, aroused my early 
interest also. These humming birds of the night often 
hovered within reach of my hand as I stood unmoving be- 
side the hollyhocks or among the phlox. 

There was one year, I believe 1911, when curious in- 
sect occurrences of several kinds attracted my attention. 
Maple trees all over Lone Oak suddenly seemed to sprout 
pussy willows along their twigs. A scale insect which cre- 
ated masses of white, cottony material had attacked the 
trees. Later that summer there was a curious "butterfly 
storm." All one day the air seemed filled with fluttering 
forms not of one species but of many kinds: yellow, 
brown, white, speckled, striped, mottled and plain. Then 
there was the case of the unintelligent fly. 

One morning, about nine o'clock, I saw this housefly 
descend into the top of an unused lamp chimney. It ex- 
plored downward until it came to the sharp bulge of the 
lower portion. Then it began flying around and around. 



At noon I saw it was still bumping along the inside of the 
glass, unable to find its way to freedom. That night it re- 
mained a prisoner. The next morning I found it buzzing 
aimlessly about where I had seen it the day before. It 
still lacked sufficient sense to make its escape through the 
open top of the chimney above it. Taking pity on it, I 
carried its transparent prison-house outdoors and shook 
the fly free. 

After the asparagus season was over, each year, Gramp 
permitted the plants to grow up into a feathery green 
tangle. I used to lie on my back, looking up at the fern- 
like branches, with their round, red berries, as though 
exploring in the midst of some strange tropical jungle. 
Odd little beetles, with shining, metallic coats-of-mail, 
ran among the treetops of the asparagus-forest. Small flies 
on blurring wings moved among the greenery and, from 
time to time, a sudden shock would shake the plant as a 
grasshopper landed with an impact upon the slender 

What the multiform insects around me were I could 
only guess. To the farmers of the region all flies were sim- 
ply "flies," all grasshoppers were "hoppers," and all in- 
sects were "bugs." In Steeles Popular Zoology there was 
a short section devoted to entomology and in the Lone 
Oak dictionary some of the most striking butterflies were 
pictured. One other aid to identification should be men- 

Each year the mailman deposited in Cramp's mailbox 
tangible evidence that the Government in Washington 


had not forgotten him. The annual yearbook of the U.S. 
Department of Agriculture arrived. For many years it 
was bound in blue and had letters of gold stamped on the 
cover. Most of the articles inside proved dreary reading 
for one of my temperament, but occasionally there would 
be a natural-history oasis, a page of colored plates, an 
article on the agricultural value of birds, or the life-story 
of some insect Outstanding in my memory are the col- 
ored plates of new fruits and of insects. To be sure, most 
of the insects were pests, agricultural enemies, fiends 
with six legs. They were shown in the colored pictures 
consuming peaches, boring into roots, nibbling on leaves, 
destroying ears of corn, sapping the lifeblood of agricul- 
tural plants. 

Even so, there were fascinating facts about some of the 
small creatures and about their incredibly cunning ruses 
for evading the penalty of their crimes. The life cycles of 
the harmful insects, as given in these annual volumes, 
provided me with my first entomological literature. It 
was, admittedly, an unbalanced diet, a one-sided pres- 
entation of the case. There was only rare mention, in pass- 
ing, of the immense benefits conferred by many species 
of insects upon farms and farmers. Occasional bulletins 
from the state department of agriculture, in Indianapolis, 
abetted this viewpoint. However, nothing in these latter 
publications ever proved of as much interest as the seal 
of the State of Indiana printed on the back cover. I used 
to look at it for long periods. It showed a woodsman chop- 
ping at a huge tree while a bison charged past and a great 



sun rose behind them. Somehow that small circular pic- 
ture epitomized to me the glory and romance of the early 

Usually, by the time the twig-fire in the driveway 
burned itself out, and the lessening of the smoke per- 
mitted the mosquitoes to rush in to the attack, Gram 
would be ready to read and we would retire within the 
protection of the screened windows and doors. Some- 
times, attracted by the lamplight, moths from the neigh- 
boring woods and marshes would flutter their silken wings 
along the mesh of the screens. And after the reading was 
over, and I had climbed the stairs to my bedroom, the last 
sound I heard each night was the chorus of the insects. 

I remember one evening in particular. My small bed- 
room window looked out into the east, into a world of 
silver mist flooded with moonlight from a great round 
moon rising above the big maple. From marsh and 
meadow swelled the vast song of the night insects. The 
shrillness was gone. It seemed softened and subdued by 
the mist. And from afar came the sound of a concertina 
breathing exotic, old-world music at the farm of distant 
Polanders. And then there was the soft yielding of the 
feather-bed around me and the great moon at my win- 
dow pouring golden thistledown over me and the far- 
away bark of a dog and the thin reiteration of "Katydid! 
Katydidn't!" and I was fast asleep. 




"I DON'T git hungry very often. But when I do *ts about 

Gramp pulled out his gold watch. 

"How-some-ever," he added, ** *ts only eleven-thirty. I 
'spect we'd better finish th* row.** 

We were hoeing corn in July. The smell of the hot sand 
rose to our nostrils as we sliced and chopped among the 
small weeds. 

"If we pull up some weeds, cut some off, an* stomp 
some down, I reckon th* rest will die/* Gramp said. 

We hoed on in silence for several minutes, Gramp 



looked at his watch again. 

"I rec'lect one time when Mr. Bump was in th* army. 
'Twas a hot day like this. Th' Gin'ral lined up all th' sol- 
diers an' said: 'Now men, our ammunition is gittin' low. 
I want y t' fire an' keep on firm' 'til yer last ca'tridge is 
gone. Then run/ Mr. Bump saluted. 'Gin'ral/ he said, I'm 
a little lame. I think I'll start now!' 

"I feel a mite lame, myself/' Gramp concluded. "Mebby 
we better start fer th' house now or we might be late fer 

On several of the neighboring farms large dinner bells 
were mounted on posts near the kitchen door for sum- 
moning workers from the fields at mealtime. There was 
no such bell at Lone Oak. Gramp didn't need any. He 
was always there usually a little ahead of time. 

Our arrival at the kitchen door was our second ap- 
pearance there that morning. About ten o'clock Gramp 
always came to the house "for a drink of water." I always 
stopped whatever work or play I was engaged in and 
joined him. For the drink of water invariably led to a 
glass of ice-cold buttermilk from the cellar and that called 
for a handful of soda-crackers and the complement of the 
crackers was a slice of what Gramp called "rat cheese." 
When this snack was over, Gramp would return to his la- 
bors and I would resume my activities where I had left 

During those summers I was insatiably fond of fruits of 
all kinds. Looking back, it seems that, in fruit season, I ate 
from morning until night. I would wander from dewberry 


vines to blackberry bushes and from plum trees to peach 
trees. During "in between" spells, when fruit was ripen- 
ing, I would beg Gram for raisins. She doled them out to 
me twelve at a time. During my earliest years the only 
name I knew for raisins was "twelve." 

The Lone Oak pantry, from which the "twelve" came, 
had many other enticements beside raisins. There were 
rows of small jelly jars, a large tin box holding the loaves 
of snow-white bread which Gram baked each Wednes- 
day and Saturday, glass containers filled with fried-cakes 
and oatmeal cookies, and often besides there were berry 
pies, gingerbread, cinnamon rolls, or newly baked Johnny- 

The contents of the pantry, however, was a mere sam- 
ple of the vast store of provender packed in the cellar 
during winter months. 

Each autumn Gram seemed preparing for a siege. She 
stored the underground room with an almost incredible 
amount of eatables. Bins and boxes and barrels were 
packed to capacity. Battalions of glass jars held canned 
pears and plums and peaches and cherries, strawberries 
and huckleberries and raspberries. The mainstays of the 
canned vegetable section were peas, tomatoes, string 
beans, and sweet corn. Jelly jars held four flavors: apple, 
grape, crabapple, and cranberry. Other containers were 
filled with watermelon, peach, cherry, and strawberry 

I remember a specialty of Gram's was carrot marma- 
lade. How she produced this delicacy remained a mys- 



tery to me until very recently. Then I found the receipt 
written in her own hand on a blank page in the ancient, 
brown-covered cookbook she used when I was a boy. I 
copy it as she wrote it: 


2 Ibs. of carrots cleaned and run through a food-cutter. 

3 lemons cut with the finest cutter. 

Cover each, with water and cook separately for % hour. 
Then put together and add 6 cups of sugar and 1M cups of 

com syrup. 
Cook until clear. 

Another of these old receipts brought back a flood 
of pleasant memories. It gave directions for making "No 
Name Cake." Gram's instructions run as follows: 


1 cup butter 4 cups flour 

2 cups sugar 3 teaspoons baking powder 

3 eggs Or, 1 teaspoon of soda and 
1 cup milk 2 of cream tartar 

Mix ingredients in the order given. Divide into three parts 
and to one-third of the mixture add the following: 

1 cup raisins and currants mixed and chopped 

2 tablespoons molasses 

% teaspoon grated nutmeg 

1 teaspoon each, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla 

Bake in shallow tins, putting the dark layer between the 
light ones with icing. 

Up until Thanksgiving time plump bunches of fresh 


Concord grapes could be brought up from the marvelous 
Lone Oak cellar. They were packed in a box of sawdust 
with the ends of the stems sealed with wax. Another box 
held perfect Northern Spy and Baldwin apples, polished 
and wrapped in pieces of newspaper. They were being 
saved for decorating the Christmas tree. The eating ap- 
ples were ranged in barrels along one cellar-wall. Gunny 
sacks bulged with dry onions, baskets were heaping full 
of carrots, a large bin held the late potatoes. Surplus po- 
tatoes, cabbage, and russet apples were stored in an out- 
door root cellar. 

Every fall Cramp butchered two of the choicest pigs. 
The boiling pork was put down in salt brine in a barrel, 
the bacon was smoked in a small, almost air-tight smoke- 
house, and the hams were dry-cured, English style, by 
treating them with salt, flour, sugar, and saltpeter. The 
selected hams were first rubbed well with salt, then set 
away for three days. At the end of that time Gram rubbed 
them again with salt to which sugar had been added in 
the proportions of two to one. Beside each knuckle-joint 
she made a deep hole into which she inserted a bean-sized 
piece of saltpeter. Then she filled the hole with salt. 
Placed on a long table, the hains were turned every other 
day for ten days. Then flour, to which a little pepper had 
been added, was rubbed thoroughly into the outside of 
each ham. The final step was covering the hams with 
cheesecloth and hanging them from the ceiling of the 

A large stone jar of pork sausage, well seasoned with 



home-grown sage, was the product of odds and ends dur- 
ing the butchering. When all the meat was packed away, 
it was not unusual to have as many as fifty or sixty pounds 
of lard. There was little danger of having too much, for 
there was a constant call for it in making pies and dough- 

In one corner of the cellar two large kegs held cucum- 
ber pickles. The first keg contained small cucumbers, two 
or two and a half inches long. They were packed in spiced 
and sweetened vinegar to which a little alum was added. 
It kept the sweet pickles crisp. The second keg held salt 
brine and larger cucumbers, from four to five inches in 
length. They were packed layer on layer in the brine. 
Gram used to test the strength of the brine by putting a 
fresh egg in it. If the egg floated, the salt solution was 
sufficiently strong. 

Every second day, during the cucumber season, pickles 
fresh from the vines were added to the barrel. A flat stone 
held all the cucumbers below the surface. When the bar- 
rel was full, a thick layer of fresh grape-leaves was placed 
on top and the keg was covered with a cloth. During win- 
ter months these large pickles were brought up, a small 
panful at a time, and soaked in clear water over night. 
Then they were cut in halves and covered with vinegar 
to which had been added a pinch of brown sugar. 

These two kinds of pickles, however, were only the be- 
ginning. Gram's cellar was the repository of a wide variety 
of relishes. There were pickled peaches, a clove stuck in 
the side of each. There were spiced crabapples, each with 


its own slender stem. There were almost transparent wa- 
termelon pickles, green tomato pickles with a slight fla- 
vor of onion sweet apple pickles cut into quarters and 
rich in their own spiced juices. There were small pickled 
pears, for serving with ham, and long, tender string-bean 
pickles, for serving with boiled beef. And, row on row, 
bottles and jars held catsup, chili sauce, and piccalilli. 

Each autumn Gramp had a barrel of cider made at the 
Furnessville cider-mill. Gram boiled several gallons and 
sealed it in two-quart jars for use as a winter beverage. 
The rest was put in a corner of the cellar to ferment and 
form vinegar, most of which Gramp sold when spring 
came. Invariably Gram placed several rolls of heavy brown 
paper in the barrel of fermenting cider. This, she said, 
formed "mother" and aided in its transformation into 

On winter nights a trip down cellar after apples or 
cider was an olfactory adventure of the highest odor. The 
smell of the kerosene lamp mingled with the delicious 
odor of stored fruit, the earthy smell of the potato bin, 
the heavy scent of the pickle-kegs, the hundred and one 
other perfumes of this storehouse of food. 

None of this food was wasted and all of it was enjoyed. 
At Lone Oak mealtime was no ordinary affair. Gramp saw 
to that. Warm food nourished his memory and his wit as 
well as his body. As we ate, he often recalled stories and 
events of his own youthful days. 

For several years after his family moved west to In- 
diana they lived in the home of penurious relatives. At 



the table his aunt always sat with the sugar bowl in her 
lap, doling out small helpings with extreme reluctance. 
Although his father was paying all the food bills, every 
mouthful was carefully watched. Gramp was growing like 
a weed and was always hungry. 

Once his aunt had watched the food disappear and had 
exclaimed in exasperation: "I wish ten thousand like our 
Ed was drove t' Jerusalem I" 

Another time his uncle complained bitterly: "Ed Way, 
you'd breed a famine!" 

"Up until the time I was sixteen," Gramp once told 
me, "I didn't know chickens had anything but necks and 

When he was fourteen he was sent to a neighbor's 
house on an errand around noontime. The neighbor in- 
vited: "Bub, pull up a chair an' sit in." 

Gramp thought he ought to be polite, so he said: "No 
thank y*. I'm not hungry." 

The neighbor took him at his word and he nearly 
starved to death watching them eat 

"I've never refused an invitation t' eat since!" Gramp 
concluded that story. 

On another occasion, when he had hired out as a 
sixteen-year-old to chop wood, he was invited to dinner 
at his employer's house. Gramp was not conscious of eat- 
ing more than anyone else. But at the end of five min- 
utes the man spoke up: 

"That's right," he said. "I like t' see a man eat when he 
sits down t' my table!" 


In a good many of the dune-country farmhouses far 
more thought was given to the money-value of the food 
consumed than was the case at Lone Oak. Gramp once 
expressed his attitude as follows: 

"When I can't hev what I want t* eat without thinkin* 
o' th' cost, it'll be time t' die!" 

Gram's reputation as a cook was widespread and friends 
visited Lone Oak from as far away as Valparaiso. They 
were always welcome. When company was coming, there 
would be several days of dusting and sweeping and wash- 
ing. Gramp and I had to watch our step. To Cramp's way 
of thinking, this was largely a waste of energy. No prepa- 
rations at all should be necessary for friends. He was 
like Socrates, who replied when upbraided by his wife, 
Xanthippe, for his lack of preparations for receiving 

"If they are our friends, they will not care about it; if 
they are not, we shall not care about them." 

Immensely proud of Gram's ability in the kitchen, 
Gramp was given to teasing her when company came. 

"We don't make any excuses fer th' food here," he 
would explain, beaming jovially on the assembled com- 
pany. "What's good enough fer us all th 9 time ought t* 
be good enough fer y* fer just one meal!" 

That, I knew, was only a starter and I wiggled my toes 
in pleasurable anticipation of what was coming. 

"The Good Book," Gramp remarked a little later in the 
meal, "the Good Book says ye shall not live by bread 
alone. But I'll take a slice, Edwin, ef y don't mind." 



The bread reminded him of the first loaf Gram had 
baked after they were married. 

"She was just gettin' her hand in then/' he explained. 
"I ate a slice an' I didn't know just what t' say. So I was 
truthful an' complimentary, too. I said: 'This isn't th* 
worst bread I ever ate but it isn't the best, either!' 

"But," he put in hastily, "there's always somethin* about 
Mother's bread that tastes like more/' 

What he was likely to say next none of us knew. Once 
when someone asked him: "How's the jam, Mr. Way?" he 
replied: "Well, as th' feller said, 'ts good enough what 
there is of it, an' enough of it unless it's better!" 

His soft voice, his ready smile, his joking manner, his 
obvious good nature disarmed everyone. They eliminated 
the possibility of offense. Nobody ever thought of taking 
exception to one of "Uncle Ed's speeches." 

About this time olives had made their first appearance 
on the table at Lone Oak. Gramp viewed them with mild 
disfavor. He consumed his full share but with many a 
dubious shake of the head. Finally he observed: 

"Some things are like a singed cat: They taste better'n 
they look. These olives look all right. But they certainly 
taste like next t' nawthin'." 

Toward the end of the meal after the heaped-up 
mountains of beaten potatoes, holding golden and melt- 
ing chunks of butter, had descended to mere foothills and 
after the great platter of fried chicken had reached the 
lower stratum devoted to necks and wings and "the part 
of the chicken that jumped over the fence last" two 


kinds of juicy berry pie would begin making the rounds. 
This was the moment I had been awaiting with a mount- 
ing sense of despair as I realized that my capacity was 
lessening rapidly. 

Gramp appeared to be filled with no such emotions. 
He would carefully help himself to an oversized wedge of 
pie, eat it with evident relish, and then inquire blandly: 

"Could I have a piece o* pie? The sample was pretty 

Later in the day, after the meal was over and the after- 
noon had worn on and the guests were climbing into their 
buggies to depart, Gramp would urge them, in character- 
istic fashion, to come again. 

"Th ? next time, come over some Saturday night, bring 
yer supper an* stay all week!" 

The friends would drive away in laughter. As they 
turned to wave good-by, he would speed the departing 
guests with a final sally: 

"An* don't forget ef j ever git within a mile o* our 
house again, be sure an* STOP!" 




IN THE dusk of summer nights, when the great barn was 
filling with blackness and streams of milk drove down- 
ward with a soft, purring sound into Cramp's tin pail, I 
used to wander out into the coolness of the barnyard. 
There I would perch on the top pole of the bars and watch 
the Lone Oak swallows. 

This was an evening rite to which I looked forward. 
The grace of the birds, the swift shuttling of their flight, 
their bright twittering cries, and their sudden fluttering 
stops in mid-airall these were a continual source of en- 
joyment. No other bird I knew had such grace or exhibited 


so clearly the delights of flying. I used to twist and turn, 
almost losing ray balance on the bars, as I followed the 
wheel and skim of their sure evolutions. The birds became 
accustomed to my presence; they would sweep past al- 
most within reach of my hand. 

Watching them, as I did night after night, I began to 
long with increasing intensity for wings of my own. Sit- 
ting on the poplar bar, with its bark half worn away by the 
rubbing of the cattle, I used to imagine how I would speed 
above the barn and the hemlock tree, how I would circle 
the farmhouse, how I would shoot down an aerial tobog- 
gan over the old spring, how I would climb up and up and 
then descend in a dizzying spiral as though sliding down 
the banister of a stairway in the sky. 

On other days, when cumulus clouds reared into the 
sultry sky all around the horizon and hung there, like 
white-clad giants resting their elbows on the rim of the 
world, I would lie in the meadow-grass and spend hours 
on end dreaming of the joys of riding on wings through 
their magical realm. 

And so it came about, when I was ten years old, that I 
determined to fly. 

Navigation of the air was then just beginning. The 
world's first air-meet, at Rheims, France, had been held 
but the year before. The great pioneers of human flight, 
the Wright brothers, A. Santos-Dumont, Louis Bleriot, 
Henri Farman, Glenn Curtiss, all were still making aerial 
history and newspaper headlines. The headless Wright 
biplane was then a new departure. 



With all the intensity of enthusiasm with which I turned 
to each new interest, I plunged into aeronautics. Every 
hook in the Michigan City Library which even skirted 
the subject I read again and again. During a single sum- 
mer I read My Airships, by Alberto Santos-Dumont, nine 
times. Vehicles of the Air, by Victor Lougheed, My Three 
Big Flights, by Andre Beaumont, and The Conquest of 
the Air, by Alphonse Berget, were the starting points of 
a thousand day-dreams. An uncle of mine, who lived in 
California, sent me a stray copy of Aircraft Magazine and 
I literally wore it to pieces reading each word over and 
over again and studying each picture innumerable times. 

In this reading I solved a mystery of several years' 
standing. One Christmas vacation, when I was six or so ? 
some neighbors arrived for a Sunday-evening call stamp, 
ing off the snow at the door and rubbing their hands to- 
gether over the comforting dull red spot on the top of 
die kitchen range. After a bowl of Christmas doughnuts 
and a plate of Northern Spy apples carefully polished 
on Gram's apron had begun making the rounds, one of 
the men recalled the story of "The Crazy Old Man of the 

It seemed that some years before he had appeared in 
the dune-country and had established a camp near a 
lofty sandhill which sloped away toward the lake. From 
the top of this dune it was his wont to leap into the air 
with artificial wings and to go sailing down the slope in 
an effort to fly. His first wings, it was said, had been 
thatched with chicken feathers. Later ones were pure 


white and made of pine and muslin. 

No story I had ever heard impressed me more deeply. 
For many nights afterward as I snuggled down in the 
woolen blankets of a cold bedroom, rubbing my feet rap- 
idly back and forth to warm them by friction, I thought 
of this lonely old man and of his efforts to fly. I could pic- 
ture him vividly in my mind's eye soaring above that 
long slope of yellow sand, out above the tawny beach and 
the blue and white of the breakers. I could see his long 
white beard trailing behind in the wind and I could hear 
the gulls screaming in the sky around him as he rode 
through the air on wings of his own making. 

And now, in my aviation books, I learned who this 
"crazy man" really was. He was Octave Chanute, one of 
the outstanding pioneers of human flight. As chief engi- 
neer of the Santa Fe Railroad he built the first bridge 
across the lower Missouri. The city of Chanute, Kansas, 
was named in his honor. In later years, when I once in- 
terviewed Orville Wright, I learned that Chanute's work, 
so unappreciated by the dune-country dwellers, had 
formed a cornerstone of later research. Just before the 
Wright brothers first flew in 1903, Octave Chanute was a 
guest at their Kitty Hawk camp among those other sand- 
dunes on die Carolina coast. 

The hill from which Chanute had launched himself on 
his earliest fledgling wings lay but a few miles from Lone 
Oak Farm. Discovery of this fact increased still further 
my desire to be an aerial pioneer myself. 

With whittled white pine, pliable gray baling wire, and 



white paper held in place with flour-and-water paste, I 
began reproducing the early planes of the world in little 
machines with a foot or so wing-span. Cramp's woodshed 
became the hangar in which I stored these miniature re- 
productions of the winged craft which filled my dreams 
models of Wright and Curtiss and Farman biplanes, of 
Antoinette and Bleriot and Demoiselle monoplanes, of 
racing Hanriots and wing-clipped Nieuports. In neck- 
and-neck races I banked my little ships around the py- 
lons formed by Gram's clothespoles. Cross-country flights 
carried me out over the fluffy green forest of the late- 
summer asparagus patch, above the Grand Canyons of 
the ditches, and across the mountains of the potato hills. 

Small helicopters, which I made by cutting lifting 
blades from the sides of empty tin cans, sometimes rose 
straight upward for half the height of the great oak tree. 
Once a gust caught one of these soaring pieces of tin and 
carried it, shining in the sun, over the ridge of the farm- 
house as though it were a plane crossing the backbone 
of the Rockies. On another day, when I was flying a toy 
helicopter near an apple tree, a kingbird, nesting there, 
took exception to the whirling piece of metal. With a shrill 
cry, it darted fearlessly toward it. Hardly six inches from 
the spinning dangerous blades it tilted and veered away, 
rising again to its apple-bough perch. Each time I sent 
the piece of tin aloft the bird swooped downward, scream- 
ing, and tried to frighten it away. 

About this time I began wearing my cap backwards in 
the manner of my great aerial heroes, Hubert Latham and 


Lincoln Beachey. I also put myself through manifold 
tests to prove my fitness for a career in the air. Once, I 
remember, I hung for seventy-five seconds head-down- 
ward from an apple-limb to discover the sensations of 
flying upside-down. On another occasion I stuck my head 
out of the window of an inter-urban train going sixty miles 
an hour to find out if I could see without goggles at high 
speeds. The most memorable feature of that experiment 
came the following morning. When I awoke I couldn't 
open my eyes. I had caught cold in them. My eyelids were 
puffed up like doorknobs. 

On those occasions when Gramp let me take the clat- 
tering mowing machine for a round or two of the hay- 
field I used to imagine that the noise was the roar of an 
air-cooled motor and my bumping progress was produced 
by air-pockets in the sky. Sometimes I climbed to the very 
peak of the great red barn and, holding my breath, peered 
downward from a dizzy height of more than thirty feet. 
But always it was the poetry of flight rather than the 
mathematics of flight which interested me. It was dreams 
of entering a new world of nature the sky-world of the 
birds which attracted me most 

During later years, on magazine assignments, I flew 
thousands of miles in many kinds of aircraft In training 
planes and flying boats, in experimental ships and auto- 
giros, in bombers and sky-liners. Only twice did I experi- 
ence the sensation of flight as I had imagined it. Once was 
when our plane slipped silently downward through fleecy 
clouds with the engine idling. The other time came during 



that moment of calm, with the wind lisping along the 
wings, when the plane losing its flying speed drifts 
through the sky for the fraction of a minute before it falls 
away into the gyrating terror of the tailspin. 

Occasionally, during midsummer days at Lone Oak, a 
time of sudden excitement and change was heralded by 
thunderheads mushrooming upward beyond the sand- 
dunes. Cattle grew restless in die fields. Flies and gnats 
bit with redoubled hunger. Birds darted from tree to tree. 
And I, like one of these natural creatures, felt in my bones 
the coming of the storm. 

It was on such days that I came nearest of all to ex- 
periencing the sensation of flight as I imagined it the 
wild rush of the wind, the exhilarating lift from the rut 
of commonplace days. It was my habit when a storm ap- 
proached over the lake from the northwest, and the pre- 
vailing wind struck with sudden gusts and fury, to take 
my place on the brow of the hill where the cherry orchard 
dropped away to a wide expanse of marshland. Here I 
was exposed to the full fury of the blasts. Elevated above 
the green lowland which stretched away to the tracks of 
the Pere Marquette Railroad, and with the gale roaring 
and buffeting around me, I could taste to the full the sen- 
sation of rushing through the air and, in imagination, 
soaring out over the marsh below. 

I recall a passage in one of the books of W. H. Hudson, 
Nature in Downland, in which the author tells of the 
pleasure he felt in a somewhat similar sensation, experi- 
enced among the rolling hills of Sussex. 


"That desire," lie says, "which we all have at times for 
wings . . . most often comes to me on these great green 
hills. Looking across vast intervening hollows to other 
rounded heights and hills beyond and far away, the wish 
is more than a wish, and I can almost realize the sensation 
of being other than I am a creature with the instinct of 
flight and the correlated faculty; that in a little while, 
when I have gazed my full and am ready to change my 
place, I shall lift great heron-like wings and fly with little 
effort to other points of view/* 

On my orchard hillside, beneath a darkening sky, I 
used to race about, breathing in the fresh lake-smell 
which came with the wind, climbing among the tossing 
branches of the cherry trees. Great winds from the north- 
west, booming through the trees, found a response in my 
nervous system. In this emotion I imagined myself for 
many years peculiar and alone. Then I came upon John 
Muir's account of a great night storm in a western forest 
in which he relates his intense delight in climbing among 
the trees as they bent like bows under the buff etings of the 
wind. Here was a kindred spirit, one who knew as I knew 
the joy of battling amid the pounding surf of the air. 

Even after the rain cold and hard and driven by the 
gusts began pelting on my cotton shirt, I used to run 
across the hillside until, breathless, I would return to the 
farmhouse in the downpour. Some deep need of the spirit, 
some inheritance of untold centuries, was finding release 
in this contact with the sky~wind. 

Gram used to maintain that I would "catch my death 



of cold" and Gramp made frequent references to people 
"who didn't know enough to come in out of the rain." He 
also told, in lurid detail, stories about boys who climbed 
trees and had been struck by lightning during thunder- 
storms. But both seemed to realize instinctively that in 
some understandable manner a very puzzling small boy 
was finding die answer to an ill-defined and individual 
need in this strange behavior. 

It was thus, through the swift shuttling of the barn- 
yard swallows, through the high-piled sky-mountains of 
the cumulus clouds, through the rush and buffet of the 
great winds, that my longing to fly was constantly fed* 
It was during my thirteenth summer that this longing 
reached its climax in the twenty-four-foot wings and the 
covered-in fuselage of The Dragonette. 




IT WAS while I was in the midst of this great project 
that exciting news appeared in the papers. Aero and Hy- 
dro, an aviation magazine published in Chicago, had an- 
nounced a. race around the Great Lakes from Chicago to 
Detroit. Hydroaeroplanes and flying boats from all over 
the country would compete. Glenn L. Martin was bring- 
ing a new-model tractor biplane from California; Tony 
Jannus was coming from St. Louis with a Benoist flying 
boat; Roy M. Francis had entered a huge biplane pulled 
by twin tractor propellers; and Beckwith Havens, a hand- 
some young Easterner, was to be at the controls of the 



latest-model Curtiss flying boat. The race was to start on 
the eighth of July and the first stop was to be Michigan 

As the day approached my excitement mounted. The 
biggest days on my calendar were Christmas and the 
Fourth of July. But this year the Fourth was eclipsed com- 
pletely. The Eighth of July became the superlative day 
of the summer. I saved up my money for the great event. 

I oiled my bicycle the night before and began pedaling 
tlie six miles of sand and gravel road to the city shortly 
after daybreak. I was taking no chances on a repetition of 
events at a previous race. Two years before, the feature of 
a Fourth of July celebration had been a motorcycle race 
from Michigan City to Laporte. I had pedaled the twelve 
miles, round trip, to see the great event. 

Starting a little late, I reached the main street after a 
large crowd had collected. The machines were already 
at the starting line, their motors idling. But they were 
completely hidden by the crowd. I saw the starter's hand, 
holding a shining pistol, rise above the heads in front of 
me. A tiny puff of blue smoke spurted from the muzzle. 
The racing machines volleyed like machine-guns. A great 
cloud of dust and engine-fumes swirled around us. The 
roar of the engines diminished with distance. Still I could 
see nothing. Finally, standing on tip-toe, I caught a fleet- 
ing glimpse of the motorcycles, bunched together and 
moving in a cloud of dust as though in a whirlwind, dis- 
appearing down a side-street. That was all I saw of the 


As I left the farmhouse, Gramp was on his way to the 
morning milking. 

"Y' remind me o ? the time I went t* Laporte fer th' 
Fourth of July/* he remarked. "I was a young'n then, too, 
and so all-fired afraid I'd miss some o ? th' doings that I 
got up at cock-crow. Then, when I got t* Laporte, I was 
so scairt I'd miss th' train home in th' evening thet I sat 
in th' station 'most all day long!" 

When my bicycle rolled down the main street of Michi- 
gan City, milkmen were still abroad. The sidewalks were 
deserted. The decorations, put up the day before, hung 
limp and wet with dew. I headed for the lake-front park 
where the racing planes would come in. A large area had 
been roped off. I sat on a bench and figured up the number 
of minutes until noon, when the machines were expected 
to arrive. Then I roamed about town, watching the city 

As soon as the Canditorium opened its doors I was on 
hand to order an ice cream soda. Making it last as long 
as possible, I was surprised to find it was still only eight- 
thirty when I finished. But now activity was picking up. 
At the park, pop and ice cream cones and popcorn and 
peanuts were being displayed at stands. Sandwiches and 
milk went on sale. Men with canes and flags and souvenirs 
hawked their wares. And from a wrinkled, red-cheeked 
little man, who was pushing a red-white-and-blue barrel 
mounted on two wheels, came the reiterated cry: 

"Lemonade! Lemonade! 
Made in the shade! 


U U JN & & U I 

Stirred by an old maldl 
Lemonade! Lemonade" 

By eating and drinking, like the sons of Job, I wMed 
away the morning. I had a glass of lemonade, then I tried 
a sandwich and a glass of milk, then a bag of popcorn, 
then a bottle of cherry pop, followed by some sticks of 
"patriotic red, white, and blue candy." I walked back to 
the Canditoriuin and this time had a sarsaparilla soda. 
Then, remembering that the planes might come in at 
noon, I decided the wise thing might be to eat my dinner 
at eleven o'clock. Then I wouldn't get hungry in the mid- 
dle of the excitement. 

By the end of the meal, which I finished off with an im- 
mense slice of watermelon crisp from the icebox, the 
hands of the clock stood at 11:40. I hurried down the 
street and across the bridge to the park. Already a scat- 
tering crowd was lined up along the rope barrier. I 
wormed into the front line and settled down to enjoy the 
supreme thrill of seeing my first air-and-water craft in 

An hour passed. Word came in that Martin was balked 
at the starting-line by magneto trouble. Francis was tem- 
porarily out of the race with a damaged propeller. But 
Jannus and Havens had lifted from the water of the Chi- 
cago lakefront and were on their way. Every distant gull 
produced a false alarm. Officials read a second announce- 
ment. Jannus was down near Gary with a broken pro- 
peller; Havens hadn't been seen since starting. My heart 
sank. Maybe none of the machines would get through to 


Michigan City. The man next to me puffed away end- 
lessly, filling the air with the sweet sickish odor of Turkish 
cigarettes. It was a new odor to me and one I didn't like. 
The ice cream sodas, sandwiches, watermelon, popcorn, 
lemonade, candy, and cherry pop lay in uneasy confine- 
ment. I felt very depressed. 

Then a great shout lifted around me and I forgot every- 
thing in a surge of excitement. 

"There he is! There he is I" shouted the crowd. 

I swept my eyes across the sky but could see nothing. 
Then I caught sight of the flying boat coming in low 
over the water, skimming like a great gull just above the 
waves. It headed directly toward us, crossed the finish 
line, wheeled upward in a wide circle, slid down, skimmed 
the water with the wave-tops spanking along its hull, 
plowed into the lake in a sudden burst of white spray and 
then idled straight inshore. At 1:40 P.M. the machine 
slid up on the wet sand. The high-pitched thunder of the 
motor stopped and the sudden silence was broken by 
shouts and handclapping. The winged boat had made the 
trip from Chicago at a speed of approximately a mile a 

Two men climbed out stiffly. One was Havens. The 
other was J. B. R. Verplanck, his passenger and the owner 
of the plane. I was all eyes. Havens had his shirt-sleeves 
rolled up and around his left wrist was a band of black 
leather holding the first wrist-watch I had ever seen. 
While he talked to officials and had the flying boat pulled 
to higher ground, a band concert began behind us and 



most of the crowd wandered away. I slipped quietly un- 
der the rope and viewed the craft in awed silence. 

The breeze had freshened. An ominous haze spread 
over the northwestern sky and the distant muttering of 
thunder carried across the lake. Dust-devils swirled along 
the sand, Havens and Verplanck looked anxiously at the 
sky from time to time. Suddenly the storm came. The 
glare of the sun disappeared in scudding clouds and hard 
drops of rain pockmarked the dry sand and pounded on 
the taut wings of the flying boat. The wind came in great 
gusts from the open water. Under the sudden violence of 
the gale the flying boat rocked wildly. The men nearest 
grabbed struts and guy-wires, holding the machine steady 
while other men got ropes and stakes. I was reaching for 
one of the wing-tip struts when Havens came past. 

"That's the boy!" he encouraged. "Can you hang on 
there until we stake her down?" 

"Sure I can," I told him. I felt a glow run like a wave 
along my body. I had talked to an aviator! 

Clinging to that varnished and streamlined strut was 
like touching one of the feathers of Pegasus. It was part 
of a winged craft which, but a few minutes before, had 
been sailing through the sky. I stuck to my place until the 
sudden tempest was over, until the worrying of the wind 
had ceased. In the sudden sunlight, which shot down- 
ward from a rift in the clouds, the machine looked more 
beautiful than ever, its wet wings and hull shining like 
new leaves in the sun. 

Bursting with news, I mounted my drenched bicycle 


and started for home. Hardly had I left the city limits be- 
fore the temperamental weather turned stormy again. In 
one of the most violent thunderstorms of the summer, 
the wind boomed and shrieked around me. At times it 
held me motionless, although I pedaled with all my might 
into the teeth of the gale. Once I rounded a corner and 
met the wind broadside as it swept across an open field. 
Banked over at a steep angle, as though rounding a fast 
curve, I traveled for a quarter of a mile down a straight 
stretch of road, supported by the great wind. This sport 
was as thrilling as flying! 

Although the lightning ran in jagged streaks down the 
sky and the whole earth seemed shaken by the thunder, 
I shouted and sang at the top of my voice. In this rushing 
wind, screaming past my ears, I was entering the eagle's 
world, the realm of the diving falcon. 

It was dark when I reached home a violent and ill- 
tempered dark filled with the crash of thunder and the 
lurid glare of lightning. Gramp was going about his chores 
with a lantern and Gram had the lamps lit and supper 
cooking on the kitchen stove. I changed to dry clothes 
and, exhilarated and happy, sat down to the simple and 
filling fare of cormneal mush and milk. 

With the thunder still muttering in the distance, that 
night, I went to bed after telling in detail all the great 
adventures of the day. The next morning I set to work 
with redoubled effort on the machine which I hoped 
would carry me, too, aloft on man-made wings. When 
the following week's Aero and Hydro arrived, it contained 



a description of the events I had seen. "Soon after Ha- 
vens' arrival at Michigan City/' the account stated, "the 
storm broke and did its best to reduce the Curtiss flying 
boat to kindling wood. But ready helpers held the boat 
on the sands." As one of those ready helpers, I reflected, 
I had actually played a part in the world's first air-and- 
water marathon. 

On succeeding days, while I tinkered with The Dragon- 
ette, I followed the progress of the Round-the-Great- 
Lakes competition with absorbing interest. When the 
Havens boat flashed across the finish line, winner of the 
900-mile race, I felt I had had a part in the achievement. It 
seemed a good augury for the success of The Dragonette. 




ALL during the early weeks of the summer when I had 
just turned thirteen, I was engrossed in my great under- 
taking. Whenever the cracker-wagon rolled into the yard 
after a trip to town, slender sticks of spruce and white 
pine thrust out to the rear and bobbed up and down as 
the vehicle came to a stop. They were the raw material 
for the skeleton of The Dragonette. 

Hour after hour I used to hammer and chisel away at 
thick pieces of galvanized sheet-iron, turning them into 
various fittings. Hour after hour I planed and sandpa- 
pered struts of spruce to give them a streamlined cross- 



section. I poured boiling water into a plugged iron pipe 
and then inserted five-foot sticks, half an inch square, 
to soften them for shaping the ribs. I cut piano wire into 
Just the right lengths. And, as the weeks went by, an 
elaborate framework began to take shape under the old 

The curiosity of the cows increased daily. I was forced 
to put up two-by-four bars across the open front of the 
three-sided building. Then, for hours on end, the ani- 
mals would stand with their heads thrust over the bars, 
chewing their cuds in sad-eyed contemplation. 

In my own absorption I forgot about the woods and 
traps and animals. The only wild creatures I watched 
were my beloved swallows. As my eyes followed then- 
sure evolutions I rode with them on imaginary flights of 
my own. When they were out of sight I would stop, from 
time to time, to pore over the pictures of real bird-men 
navigating the sky. In tattered copies of Aircraft Maga- 
zine and in the books which I carried home from the 
Michigan City Library there were thrilling and entranc- 
ing photographs which fed my imagination. I looked at 
some of them so many hundred times that they are still 
vivid in my mind. The most memorable were pictures 
which dramatized the beauty of flight and the moods of 

One, I recall, showed an exquisitively beautiful Han- 
riot monoplane flying at sunset; another depicted a 
wide-winged Antoinette, with its skiff-like body, bank- 
ing around a pylon with a cloud-filled sky in the back- 


ground; a third showed a "cross-channel type" Bleriot 
rising over the ox-drawn cart of a peasant working in 
the fields of southern France; a fourth recorded Wilbur 
Wright riding through the air over a flock of sheep at sun- 
set with the ruins of Rome in the background. During 
later years that picture, returning vividly to mind, became 
associated in mood with Robert Browning's lines: 

"Where the quiet-colored end of evening smiles, 
Miles and miles 

On the solitary pastures where our sheep 
Half -asleep 

Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop 
As they crop 
Was the site once of a city great and gay. . . /" 

There were, too, pictures of flying machines in the 
Webster's dictionary which had been installed on a spring- 
stand in the parlor. They showed the balloons, dirigibles, 
and heavier-than-air machines of the day. I looked long- 
est at the dragonfly-like Antoinette and at Santos-Du- 
mont's diminutive Demoiselle a tiny, temperamental 
machine which early aviation writers referred to as "an 
infuriated grasshopper/* So many times did I open the 
great book to this place that it began to fall open to the 
page whenever I spread apart the holding springs. 

Balloons, at first, attracted me strongly. The stories 
of Blanchard, Wise, Santos-Dumont, Augustus Post, and 
Cromwell Dixon a ten-year-old boy of Columbus, 
Ohio, who flew in a gas-bag his mother had sewed to- 
gether on her sewing machine provided vicarious thrills. 



So long, and so intently, did I dream of aerial voyages 
that a mental adventure took place one day which I have 
never forgotten. 

It was a still, hot Sunday afternoon. Gramp and I were 
sitting on the small hothouse frames which had been 
set up that spring just under the kitchen windows. The 
flies droned; the far-away whistle of a locomotive came 
faintly to my ears. We were silent in the heat. I was 
thinking of balloon-voyages through space, of drifting 
through the blue upper air, of viewing spread out below 
me the dunes, the marshes, the far hills of the Valparaiso 
moraine. Then, as vivid as reality, I saw a balloon drifting 
overhead, the passengers leaning over the side of the 
wicker basket and waving, the guide-rope dangling down 
in a thin line and trailing along the earth. All the while I 
knew no balloon was there. Yet the mental mirage was as 
clear as actuality. 

My ambitions in the realm of lighter-than-air craft 
ended with a trip to Valparaiso. As the stellar attraction 
at a carnival there, a balloonist was scheduled to make a 
parachute jump. I pedaled my bicycle over twenty miles 
of gravel road through the air that was filled, each time 
an auto passed, with choking white dust to reach the 
place on the appointed day. The sooty canvas bag of the 
hot-air balloon was spread out on the bricks of a roped-off 
intersection near the center of town. A crowd was already 
pushing against the ropes. 

Within the open space a short man with a head almost 
as square as a block of wood was sitting on a bicycle, a 


pad and pencil In hand, questioning a slender young man 
in his shirtsleeves. The little man's toes were pointed 
downward. His legs were just too short to reach the 
ground and, successively, the bicycle tipped off balance 
first to one side and then to the other. Each time, the 
rider gave an upward kick as his toe encountered the 
ground and the bicycle reared over in the opposite direc- 
tion. Without being disturbed in the least by this see- 
sawing through the air from side to side, the little man 
scribbled away at a furious rate. He was the local editor 
interviewing the daring aeronaut. 

The interview was proceeding at a swift pace. The edi- 
tor had just discovered that the aeronaut intended to 
marry a Valparaiso girl and settle down in the community. 
Like the occupant of a rowboat rushing downstream in 
the grip of a strong current, the interviewer kept to the 
main channel by dabbing in a question from time to time 
in the manner of giving a quick thrust with an oar. When 
the interview was over, the young man and a helper be- 
gan preparing for the afternoon ascent. They called for 
volunteers to hold down the bag. I was one of the first 
through the ropes. With petroleum-fed flames heating 
the air within, the sooty bag rose slowly, bulged upward, 
assumed a pear-shaped form, tugged at our restraining 

At this critical moment some of the boys on the other 
side of the balloon let go. The great bag heeled over in 
our direction. There were shouts, clamor. We all let go 
and scattered. As I turned, I saw the bag gain upward mo- 



mentum. The young man, now resplendent in blue tights, 
leaped for the trapeze bar. At the sudden jerk of his 
weight, the whole parachute pulled loose and he plunged 
back half a dozen feet to the hard surface of the pavement. 

The unmanned balloon shot upward. It swung from 
side to side like the head of an angry elephant. A thou- 
sand feet in the air, it capsized and with black smoke pour- 
ing from the interior it drifted away, gradually sinking 
back to earth. 

"If I can get MEN to hold the balloon" the young man 
in the blue tights was shouting "if I can get MEN to 
hold the balloon, I will make an ascent at seven o'clock 
tonight. But I will have to have MEN to do it!" 

I wiped the soot off my hands on my trousers and 
wormed my way back into the crowd. Late that after- 
noon, as I was trundling my bicycle down a main street, I 
encountered a newsboy selling papers. I bought one and 
part way home stopped to rest under a tree and to read 
all about the aeronaut who was going to marry a Val- 
paraiso girl and settle down in the community. That day 
brought my first encounter with the speed of the modern 
press and my last with hot-air ballooning. 

After I had settled down to heavier- than-air machines I 
began collecting free catalogues. On post cards I wrote 
for booklets and price lists to all the fabulous advertisers 
in Aircraft Magazine. Back came catalogues on Curtiss 
biplanes, Paragon propellers, Gnome revolving motors. 
Each became a sort of Union Depot for dreams; imaginary 
journeys spread away from every page of these well- 


thumbed catalogues. 

By the time I was eleven the number of model machines 
I had formed from whittled sticks of white pine, soft gray 
baling wire, and paper held in place by flour-and-water 
paste had reached the grand total of more than 120. With 
them I re-enacted in miniature all the historic events in 
the annals of flight, all the great aerial duels of the early 
days: Bleriot and Latham vying for the honor and money 
accorded to the first to cross the English Channel; Andre 
Beaumont and Roland Garros battling neck and neck 
in the Paris-Rome race; J. Armstrong Drexel and Ralph 
Johnstone in a monoplane-versus-biplane struggle for su- 
premacy in the upper air. 

Among the entries in that entrancing catch-all at the 
back of Vehicles of the Air the section headed "Tabu- 
lar History of Flights" I used to note such items as: 
"Flew in all directions/' "Short flight, rudder broke/' 
"Ninety feet high/* "Passenger weighed 238 pounds/ 7 and 
"After only six and a half hours' instruction/' Then, during 
lulls in my work on The Dragonette, I would reproduce 
these early adventures along the road of air-travel, using 
models of the pioneer machines involved. 

On the previous Fourth of July one of my models had 
participated in a spectacular and almost disastrous rise 
and fall over the farm buildings. It was a lightweight 
eighteen-inch model of a Montgomery tandem glider. 
This I planned to send aloft secured to a Fourth-of-July 
paper balloon by means of a long fuse. When the fuse 
burned out, the glider would be cut loose automatically 



to spiral and volplane back to earth. 

Tlie Fourth was windy. Gramp helped me hold the bal- 
loon and light the paraffin-soaked excelsior ball which 
formed the heating plant of the tissue-paper craft. To be 
out of the gusts, we worked in the shelter of the wagon- 
shed. The brightly colored balloon expanded with the 
heated air. It tugged in my hands. I touched off the fuse 
and let go. Upward shot the bag, the glider dangling be- 
neath. A gust from over the barn struck the balloon; it 
swayed violently from side to side. At a height of 100 
feet its oscillations increased. Flames from the burning 
excelsior touched the tissue-paper and in a sudden swift 
flash of fire the whole balloon burned in mid-air. The 
glider model and the ball of burning excelsior plunged 
to earth only a few yards from the barn itself. That was 
by request the last experiment of the kind I made. 

From models I graduated to man-carrying kites. One 
huge box kite, nearly ten feet long, was smashed in the 
launching, much to Gram's relief. Next came a small wing 
wired beneath the top bar of my bicycle. Pedaling like 
mad down a small decline, I would strike a "landing 
stage," formed by a plank running up on a box to produce 
a sort of miniature ski jump, and would go hurtling 
through the air for ten or a dozen feet before striking the 
earth again. On innumerable occasions the big red and 
white wagon-umbrella, with advertising slogans for Stei- 
ger's Hardware stenciled on the cloth, acted as a para- 
chute in leaps from the upper beams of the big barn into 
the soft landing fields of the haymow. But best of all, and 


nearest to flying, was the dive and skim and zoom of the 
swing beneath the green shade of the lone oak. 

By such stages I finally reached a tandem man-carrying 
glider. It had eighteen-foot wings and was designed some- 
what after Samuel P. Langley's ill-fated machine. After 
short runs down the sloping roof of the chicken-coop I 
would launch myself on the mercies of the unsubstantial 
air. The word which best describes the result is a short, 
onomatopoeticone: Thump! 

After such adventures, Grarnp was wont to recite por- 
tions of Trowbridge's Darius Green and His Flying Ma- 
chine, a large part of which he knew by heart. The lines 
which invariably seemed most appropriate were the final 
words of the poem: 

**. . . if you insist, as you have the right, 
On spreading your wings for a loftier flight, 
The moral is Take care how you light/' 

All previous experiments were minor affairs compared 
to the building of The Dragonette. I had carefully 
planned out every detail. The streamlined body, covered 
with cloth, was fifteen feet long; the top wings had a 
spread of twenty-four feet and a width of five feet; the 
combined areas of the supporting surfaces were 220 
square feet while the total weight of the machine was 
about 190 pounds. In lieu of a motor, I intended to have 
Dolly, Cramp's carriage horse, pull the machine at the 
end of a rope into the teeth of a stiff wind. 

By late July the machine was taking shape. Under the 



wagonshed the framework was resting in a series of as- 
sembled parts. Stove-bolts held the spruce and white 
pine sticks together and piano wire strengthened the 
various sections. When the skeleton of the fuselage had 
been equipped with a double pair of V-struts, holding the 
two coaster-wagon wheels of the landing gear, the time 
for covering the machine had arrived. Stretching heavy 
muslin taut, I anchored it in place with carpet-tacks. Simi- 
larly I covered the wings. 

Stopping to watch me as he passed by, Gramp recalled 
other lines from Darius: 

"So day after day 

He stitched and tinkered and hammered away, 
Till at last *t was done 
The greatest invention under the sun! 
*An* now,' says Darius, 'Hooray f er some fun! ? " 

When all the cloth was on, Gram made up a huge dish- 
pan full of hot starch. Using a whitewash brush, I set to 
work to coat the wings and fuselage with a sizing of starch 
which would make the fabric taut and more impervious to 
the air. By filling up the tiny openings in the muslin, I 
had decided, I could increase the lifting power of the 

On the side of the fuselage, in black paint, I labeled: 
The Dragonette, This sounded like my admired Antoi- 
nette and meant, in French, I had deduced from my aer- 
onautical books "The Little Dragon/' When this paint 
was dry I bolted the wings in place. Gramp, with addi- 
tional quotations from Darius Green such as "What's he 


got on? I van, it's wings! An* that *t other thing? I vum, 
it's a tail!" held up the planes while I attached the brac- 
ing wires. 

The finishing tuning-up brought the biggest thrill of 
all. This included tightening a dozen or more steel turn- 
buckles, just like those used on real airplanes. They had 
cost ten cents apiece and had come a few days before in 
a heavy brown pasteboard box from The Heath Aerial 
Vehicle Company, in Chicago. Several days of concen- 
trated cherry-picking had gone into their purchase price. 

My heart swelled until I could hardly breathe when I 
stood back and surveyed the wide-winged machine, 
poised and gleaming like a great white gull beneath the 
wagonshed. A neighbor had come over to see Gramp 
about borrowing his horse-rake. As he passed the wagon- 
shed, he stopped in amazement 

"Thunderation, Ed! What's that?" he asked. 

"It belongs to Darius Green, here/' Gramp told him. 

The man stared at the white contraption for a long time 
in silence. He walked around it. He examined it carefully. 
He peered into the cockpit. He thumped the starched 
muslin of the wings. Then he stood back, shook his head, 
and said with simple finality: 

"That won't never fly!" 

I said nothing. But in that moment with what intensity 
I wanted it to fly. I wanted to see him proved wrong. I 
wanted to laugh last just as the Wrights had laughed at 
their scoffers, just as Bell had done, just as Edison had 
done. With what poignancy the very young desire suc- 



cess! All life seems hanging on the brink; all the future 
seems decided by a yes or no. In later life we learn to 
discount our hopes, to expect a certain percentage of fail- 
ures, struggle as we will But in youth the world seems to 
remain solid, or dissolve around us, on the cast of a single 
die. Well, he was in a way proved wrong and that was 
consolation later on. 

Haying was long over and Gramp had promised to tow 
The Dragonette across the lower forty if the wind was 
right on the following day. Before bedtime, that night, I 
walked out to the barnyard for a last glimpse of the white 
machine standing stQl in the moonlight with the velvet- 
black shadows of the wagonshed behind it. The stars 
were gleaming from a cloudless sky. Fair weather seemed 
assured for the great day, which now lay less than ten 
hours off. 


^^p 8 *^^^^ 



THE next morning I was pulling on my clothes at dawn. 
Outside the sky was clear and the thin green spire of the 
cedar tree was waving back and forth in a fresh breeze 
from the south. At a dog-trot I brought in kindling and 
wood and started tie fire in the kitchen range. I hovered 
about the barn, urging Gramp on to greater speed in the 
milking. He sent me off to feed the horses. 

At Dolly's stall I paused for a long contemplation and 
some misgivings. As she munched hay steadily at a low- 
gear pace, she had little resemblance to a compact and 
powerful motor. Her three distinguishing characteristics 



were a sweet and placid disposition, the largest feet I 
ever saw on a horse, and a little wornout tail that resem- 
bled a discarded whisk-broom. In the heyday of her turf 
career she may have attained a speed of twelve miles an 

My plan was simple. If this one-horsepower motor 
could pull The Dragonette at ten miles an hour into a 
twenty-five-mile-an-hour wind, the wings would have the 
same lifting capacity as though the machine were running 
over the ground at thirty-five miles an hour in a calm. 
This speed was the cue for The Dragonette to soar grace- 
fully aloft. 

It seemed weeks before the smell of coffee and bacon 
filled the kitchen. Then, when we sat down to steaming 
bowls of oatmeal and plates of fried eggs and bacon, 
Gramp developed an abnormal appetite. He ate endlessly. 
He asked for second helpings of everything. I wandered 
out to the wagonshed. The cows were draped over the 
bars as usual. I shooed them away and began to take down 
the two-by-fours which had protected The Dragonette 
from their curiosity. 

For fully half an hour I tightened bolts, strummed 
wires, tested the controls. Still Gramp failed to put in an 
appearance. When he did come, he was not alone. My 
mother and father had appeared miraculously on the 
scene. Warned of the trend of events, they had arrived 
by an early train and had walked down from Furnessville. 

While I waggled the control-stick, to show how the 
ailerons and elevator planes operated, and dilated upon 


the safety features of the big machine, Gramp harnessed 
Dolly. Then we set off in a procession for the lower 
meadow. At the head, the big feet of the carriage horse 
sent up little puffs of dust each time they plopped into 
the soft sand of the barnyard path. A long rope, used in 
pulling hay into the mow, trailed behind Dolly, attached 
to the whippletree. The Dragonette trundled along on her 
two wheels while I lifted the tail and rny mother and fa- 
ther each grasped a wing-tip. Gram, filled with doubts as 
to the wisdom of the whole procedure, brought up the 

At the lower bars, where I had so often watched the 
Lone Oak swallows, there was a short pause. The machine 
had to be lifted over as the passage was not wide enough 
to accommodate the twenty-four-foot wings of the bi- 
plane. When he built those bars, Gramp remarked, he 
never thought flying machines would have to go through 

As we trooped into the wide open spaces of the hay- 
field, the breeze had freshened until the leaves of a 
near-by oak tree were fluttering in the wind. My mother 
and father explained that they intended to run along at 
the ends of the wings to hold me down if I began to climb 
into too rarefied an atmosphere. On this information, I 
designated them "the wing mechanics." Gramp remained 
"the head mechanician/* 

Dolly sidled past The Dragonette with the whites of 
her eyes showing and the long hay-rope was tied securely 
to the axle of the biplane. At this point an interruption 



occurred. I heard a scraping sound at the tail of the ma- 
chine. An inquisitive calf had followed us through the 
gate and was licking the starch off one of the elevator 
planes. Starch, to that calf, was what catnip is to cats. 
Every time I would chase it away, it would gallop, tail- 
high, in a wide circle and reappear on the other side of 
The Dragonette. Fully ten minues were spent rushing 
this way and that before the animal was outside the field 
and the gate securely locked. 

With my cap turned around backwards and a pair of 
goggles in place, I prepared to climb into the cockpit. 
There was a last-minute inspection of the turnbuckles and 
bolts, the elevator hinges, and the control-wires. Then I 
settled myself down on the seat of crisscrossing laths and 
grasped the control-stick. My head was just sticking above 
the top of the deep-chested, covered-in fuselage. On 
either hand the wide, white wings stretched away end- 
ing in my father on one side and my mother on the other. 
For an instant pictures of splintered planes and dead little 
boys kaleidoscoped before my mind. Then I noticed my 
mother was looking white and scared. Paradoxically, that 
cheered me up. 

I lifted my right hand high above my head. I had seen 
Andre Beaumont doing that in a picture taken at the 
start of the Paris-Rome race. It was the signal for the 

A hundred feet or so out in front, the head mechanician 
turned over the motor or, rather, turned it around, be- 
cause by this time Dolly had become tangled in the rope 


and traces and had to be untangled. When this was ac- 
complished, and the horse was headed directly into the 
wind, Gramp clucked loudly. 

Nothing happened. 

He shouted: "Git ap, confound you!" 

The horse remained rooted in place. 

Gramp slapped the lines over her bony back. Still she 
remained unmoving. Looking wall-eyed, she glanced ap- 
prehensively back at the white machine. She gave her 
worn-out, whisk-broom tail a few nervous jerks. Seem- 
ingly she was overwhelmed by the great role she was 
about to play in the conquest of the air. 

Then, without warning when we least expected it 
she charged ahead, broke into a run, then a gallop. Gramp 
galloped behind her. My mother and father galloped be- 
side the wings. Cramp's hat blew off and his beard trailed 
in the wind. I was so taken by surprise that I forgot to 
operate the controls. We bumped for a hundred yards and 
then rolled to a stop. There was silence. Nobody had any 
breath to say anything with except the aviator who had 
forgotten to ascend and he had nothing to say. I clam- 
bered out and, lifting the tail, swung The Dragonette 
around. Slowly we trailed back up the field to the start- 
ing point. 

After a ten-minute rest under the oak tree, we took our 
places again. I wet my finger and held it aloft. The wind 
had veered a little to the east. It seemed dying out. Hur- 
riedly Gramp got Dolly in motion and once more we 
went careening down the field. I could see the two wing- 



mechanics preparing to cling to the machine if it began 
to rise. Cautiously I inched back the control-stick. Noth- 
ing happened. I pulled the stick clear back in my lap. The 
same result. Now we were slowing down at the end of 
the run. I felt discouraged as I scrambled out. The wind 
was coming in fits and starts. The steady, strong breeze 
of the morning was gone. 

On the third run down the field I noticed my father 
was lifting up on his wing instead of holding it down. And 
on the fourth attempt he said he was positive he could 
hold the machine down and keep it from going too high 
all by himself. So we left my mother fanning herself in 
the shade of the oak tree. It was during this trip that 
everything seemed to happen at once. 

Dolly, towing Gramp at the end of the reins and towing 
The Dragonette at the end of the hay-rope, got away for 
a fast start. My father raced along, tugging upward on his 
wing-tip as though in an effort to heave the flying machine 
into the air by main force. A strong rush of wind whistled 
among the wires and pounded along the taut, starched 
muslin. As the gust struck the wide-spread wings, there 
was a sudden lift. The bumping stopped. 

My father shouted feebly: "You're flying!" 

Then he tripped and disappeared. 

The gust also left us and the wheels of The Dragonette 
struck the ground. One landed in a rut. The machine 
slewed wildly to the right. A wing-tip dug into the earth. 
There was a splintering crash and the sharp report of a 
snapping strut The plane heeled over, plowed along on 


its nose, and came to a stop. A cloud of fine gray dust was 
settling through the air when I crawled out and looked 
around. My father was picking himself up from the floor 
of the pasture. Gram and my mother were running in my 
direction from the oak tree. Entirely unharmed, I began 
to bewail the fate of my machine. 

Then I noticed that Gramp didn't seem happy either. 
He was hopping around one one leg, holding the other. 
His face was screwed up until all I could see was whiskers. 
From time to time a red hole would appear among the 
whiskers and out would come loud and violent affirma- 
tions of anguish. In answer to my questions I learned, in 
exclamatory and disconnected sentences, what had hap- 

The sudden jerk on the hay-rope, when the machine 
slewed around, had thrown the whippletree violently to 
one side. It had struck Gramp squarely on the shin. As he 
unhitched Dolly and limped off to apply Sloan's liniment 
to the bruise, he resigned as my head mechanician. In 
fact he severed all connection with future aerial experi- 
mentation forever. 

I walked disconsolately around and around the shat- 
tered Dmgonette. Gram and my mother offered comfort- 
ing words and then started for the house to get dinner. 
My father told me how he had seen the wheels lift from 
the ground and the machine go sailing like a great kite 
into the air. An extremely truthful man, he held in Ms 
imagination with a tight rein. He couldn't say how high 
the machine had risen. Even under pressure he would 



only say that the wheels had not risen more than five feet 
in die air. Of that he was sure. 

He, too, started for the house and, like Gray's depart- 
ing plowman, left the world to darkness and to me. My 
gloom lifted slightly when I reflected that, in spite of 
everything, I had for a few moments ridden on wings 
through that magical realm of the air. I examined The 
DragoneUe more carefully, taking an inventory of the 
sound and damaged parts. Only one lower wing and the 
landing gear had been completely demolished. The rest 
of the machine was virtually intact. A couple of week's 
work under the wagonshed would repair the damage. 
But before that work could be begun an unforeseen event 
made the catastrophe complete. 

After supper that night I walked down to the pasture 
where, with one white wing thrust upward, The Dragon- 
ette lay beneath the sunset sky. The west had an angry 
look and I drove half a dozen stakes into the hard, dry 
ground and attached ropes to anchor down the machine 
in the event of a storm. This was a wise precaution, but 
the protection was insufficient. 

Late that night I awoke to the sound of gust-driven rain, 
crashing thunder, and wind that lashed the great oak 
with a sound like booming surf. Battering down fields of 
standing corn, tearing away branches from trees, the most 
violent thunderstorm of a stormy year continued hour 
after hour. 

Under the broken sky of early morning I hurried 
through the dripping grass to the south forty. Strewn 


half-way across the field were fragments of The Dragon- 
ette. It had torn loose from its moorings and had rolled 
like a tumbleweed before die great gusts. Its twenty-four- 
foot wings, its streamlined fuselage, its tail-surfaces were 
kindling wood and shreds of cloth and snarls of wire. 

With that catastrophe of wind and storm my attempts 
to be a pioneer of die air came to an end. Cramp's cows 
returned with untroubled minds to their grazing. The 
wagonshed once more became a wagonshed. Dolly went 
back to the staid orbit of her former days. And I plunged 
once again into the green world and the long-neglected 
enchantments of the out-of-doors. 


S!^\:WW09V/L.\\V...\L 1 - H -" x '" ^ ii.imiriii.iiin 



ON A recent day, a thousand miles from Lone Oak, I came 
upon a little patch of woodland moss. From its soft, green 
embrace a dozen low plants lifted pointed leaves and 
round crimson berries. At the sight, somewhere back 
among the sleeping memories of my brain one stirred, 
stretched, and became awake. 

It was the memory of a September day. Vacation at 
Lone Oak was nearing its end. The gentle melancholy 
which hung like an Indian summer haze over these latter 
days of freedom colored my emotions. Alone I wandered 
along the winding paths of the north woods. Cicadas 


slirilled in the oaks and catbirds and brown thrashers 
darted in and out among the tangled underbrush. Near 
the wood's northern boundary a small spring welled out 
of the moss and saturated the soil of a depression. Run- 
ning away up the slopes of this hollow among the trees 
was the green plush carpet of the moss and sprinkled over 
it was a crimson profusion of wintergreen berries. 

Never since have I seen them so numerous, so large, so 
filled with flavor. Stretched out on the moss of the cool 
glade, I found hundreds of the berries within reach of my 
fingers. I filled my hands and lay back at leisure munching 
the firm white meat and savoring to the full the wild 
flavor of the wintergreen fruit. Coleridge has the lines: 
"For he on honey-dew hath fed and drunk the milk of 
Paradise/' Worthy of a place with these magical foods are 
the wintergreen berries of a northern wood. 

From early days wintergreen was a flavor that gave me 
my greatest delight. At the ornate Canditorium, on Main 
Street in Michigan City, I used to reach a seventh heaven 
and enter in when a wintergreen soda, with coral-pink 
foam, was set before me. At that time Jumbo gum was to 
be had in the local stores. It supplied the most gum possi- 
ble for five cents. Each stick was nearly a quarter of an 
inch thick and permeating its delectable depths was the 
flavor of wintergreen. 

My progress through the world, in later years, has been 
something of an Odyssey in search of wintergreen sodas 
and Jumbo gum. In each new town I have visited, on both 
coasts and in between, I have looked hopefully on soda- 



fountain menus and candy counters for these delights of 
boyhood. And all in vain. As far as I can find out, winter- 
green sodas were a specialty of the Canditorium and 
Jumbo gum was indigenous to the region. 

There was another gum, a wild gum, that was free for 
the taking in one section of the Lone Oak woods. This 
was the pitch of the spruce trees. It oozed out in shining 
globules which slowly hardened on contact with the 
air. I called the cluster of spruces "The Chewing-Gum 
Trees/' The rich, spicy flavor of the globules had a slightly 
bitter tang and I remember that the consistency of the 
pitch had to be just right or it stuck to my teeth with the 
grip of glue. 

Other treasures besides wintergreen berries and spruce 
gum lay in the north woods. It, like the dunes farther 
to the north, was a stronghold of the wild amid the tame- 
ness of advancing civilization. Cottontails lived under the 
old brushpiles and made their runways through the un- 
dergrowth. Bushes and trees sheltered the nests of many 
birds. And, here and there, my eye caught the exciting, 
half -hidden entrances to the dens of the burrowing ani- 
mals. Moving silently down the narrow trails, I would 
come upon little open glades which looked wild and 
lonely as though in Indian days. The home-life of baby 
birds and young squirrels and infant rabbits formed only 
one of the manifold chapters unfolded before me in this 
book of the woods. 

Gram understood best of all the fascination of this 
wooded tract. To Gramp the north woods was largely a 


source of firewood and fence-posts. He belonged to a gen- 
eration such as the Psalmist described, one in which "a 
man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon 
the thick trees." In earlier days Gramp had earned his liv- 
ing, during winter months, by chopping down trees as a 
woodsman and cutting them into stovewood at so much 
a cord. When he was long past sixty he was still seem- 
ingly tireless in his expert use of an ax. 

Whenever he started off on a chopping expedition to 
the north woods I tagged at his heels. Sometimes we 
would carry sandwiches of home-baked bread and thick 
slices of boiled beef and Gramp would stop work at noon- 
time or a little before and we would seek out the 
spring in the little glade and dine in state on its spreading 
carpet of moss or on a fallen log near by. 

The trees that came crashing down beneath his sturdy 
strokes always had stories to tell. One would have a 
flicker hole for me to investigate; another, loose bark with 
its population of small inhabitants beneath. Once the fall 
of an oak stunned a red squirrel which had taken refuge 
in its massed nest of leaves. While Gramp worked, I used 
to chew the twig-tips of sassafras or ruminate on winter- 
green leaves or build brush igloos with the branches which 
had been lopped from the trunks of fallen trees. 

There was, on the far western outskirts of the woods* 
a spot which is associated in my mind with both food and 
adventure. Running wild over a considerable area, black- 
berry bushes spread out in a seemingly impenetrable tan- 
gle. As the summer days advanced, and the fruit hung 



thick upon this bramble-patch, Gramp and Gram and I 
would organize an expedition. 

In preparation for such forays Gram would tie her blue 
sunbonnet firmly on her head and we all would arm our- 
selves with pails of varying sizes to hold the wild harvest 
we were after. The start was usually made in mid-morning 
after the sun had dried the dew but before the peak heat 
of the day had come. Arriving at the patch, we would 
skirt the bramble thicket, picking the outer berries first. 

It was after this initial skimming along the edges was 
over that the real fun began. 

Gramp was trailbreaker. He would flounder through 
the briers, stamping them down with his heavy shoes and 
we would follow in his wake, picking the blackberries to 
right and left. As he worked deeper into the tangle he 
would report his progress from time to time. 

"Come over here/' he would call, "th* berries are 
thicker'n thieves." 

Once, when an interlaced thicket of brambles defied 
all his efforts at penetration, he burst out: 

"Nothin' but a greased pig with his ears pinned back 
could git through that tangle!" 

Oftentimes the briers rose far higher than my head. I 
used to peer into the brambly depths of the vegetation 
on either side of the path Gramp had made, forgetting all 
about picking until Grain overtook me or Gramp glanced 
back and brought me to life with some comment on my 
kck of industry such as: 


"Edwin, 'ts too bad y' weren't bom rich 'stead o' hand- 

The trails opened up virgin wilderness on a minute 
scale. They carried me into the depths of a realm previ- 
ously hidden from sight by a living wall of vegetation. 
Peering among the briers, I could see abandoned bird's 
nests and rabbit runways. Like disengaged bits of twigs, 
walking-stick insects green and brown moved away 
over the foliage. And those living leaves, the katydids, 
lifted their veined, green wings and swung their thread- 
like antennae up and down and from side to side, explor- 
ing the suddenly disrupted world around them. 

Behind me I could hear the steady patter of blackber- 
ries dropping into the large tin pail that Gram carried. I 
had a smaller lard pail which had been scrubbed and 
scalded for the occasion. Into this receptacle I would pick 
rapidly for several minutes. Then some new sight of small 
wild-life activity would absorb me. Gram understood 
without explanations and said nothing about these sudden 
lapses of mine. 

At intervals she would inquire of Gramp: "Don't you 
think you have got enough paths? Hadn't you better 
stop and pick a while?" 

But Gramp always had just one more trail to make. 
Beyond was better. He would pause and pick a few 
dozen berries, then wander on in search of a place where 
they were thicker. He was the pioneer spirit in action. 
He had implicit faith that better picking lay somewhere 



fust ahead. Sometimes he was right. But when the expe- 
dition was over it was Gram who had filled most of the 

As noon approached, Gramp would squint up at the 
sun and then pull out his big gold watch. 

"Mother," he would say, "these berries are gettin' t* be 
small Waters an' a few t* a hill. *Ts almost noon an' 'ts 
hotter'n all git out. Let's go home." 

As we walked back across the fields for dinner, Gramp 
would view the gallons of fresh fruit, which the win- 
ter would see appearing from glass cans to provide a 
welcome dessert, and remark complacently: 

"Well, we picked a good lot o' berries t'day, didn't we?" 

And Gram would say: 

"Yes, we killed the bear!** 

And we all would laugh. 




"KEEP yer eye peeled fer fun!" 

When Gramp had said that at milking time, I knew 
something special was in the air. A little later he let me 
in on the secret. We were going to the lake. Once or 
twice a summer, on the Fourth of July or during a lull 
after haying or when all the daughters of the family were 
home, we packed a picnic lunch and made an expedition 
to the dunes. 

As the sandhill crane flew, the distance from Lone Oak 
to the lake was hardly a mile and a half. Even by the 
roundabout road we took, it was a journey of less than 



three miles. Yet a trip to Lake Michigan was a gala event 
that required days of preparation. 

Lono- in advance, Gramp would pick out the best 
chickens for frying. On the day preceding the trip the 
kitchen would be filled with the aroma of baking bread. 
The sound of the egg-beater would carry out into the 
yard as Gram prepared the mystic ingredients for angel 
food and No Name cake. That evening, after supper was 
over, more wood was stoked into the kitchen range and 
the whole house became redolent with the smell of frying 
chicken. I was packed off to bed early to get extra sleep 
for the big day ahead and also to get me out from 
underfoot in the kitchen. 

Lying under the low ceiling in the little room at the 
head of the stairs, I would breathe deeply of the delicious 
kitchen-smells and wriggle with delight at the prospects 
of the morrow. 

We were all up at dawn. Gramp milked at double- 
speed while I put in an extra ration of oats for the horses. 
We hurried through a pick-up breakfast. Then, while 
Gramp harnessed Deck and Colty to the haywagon, the 
dinner was stowed away in baskets. Gram made a final 
inventory chicken, bread, butter, sandwiches, deviled 
eggs, potato salad, cakes, lemonade, pickles. All were 
present and accounted for. The baskets were swung into 
the center of the hayrack and covered with cloths to 
keep out the dust. We climbed aboard, Gramp clucked 
to the horses and away down the road we rolled, our 
legs dangling over the side of the hayrack and a cloud 

of dust behind us settling down on the wayside plants. 

Our course led east along the sand-road, then north 
down Schrum's Hill where huge inch-grass lifted 
straight green spikes from a ditch-side and finally, after 
crossing the Michigan Central tracks and driving west 
a few rods on what is now the Dunes Highway, north 
again over a narrow corduroy road formed of logs laid 
side by side on the uncertain footing of the bog. So 
spongy was the foundation of this makeshift road that 
our passing wheels produced a miniature earthquake in 
the swamp. Water in the ditches at either side would 
quiver and plants growing on the opposite banks would 
tremble as though in a breeze. 

At the far side of the swamp-belt the horses climbed 
upward. They labored in the deep sand of a winding 
road, a road that carried us past a solitary dwelling set 
amid pine trees. It was the only habitation in all that 
lonely stretch of dunes. In it lived unusual people who 
will be mentioned later in this chapter. Beyond the house 
the road swept in wide curves among the sandhills and 
then plunged down a decline of soft sand to the un- 
frequented beach which was our destination. 

By a sense of smell alone I could have followed our 
progress on that journey. First came the odor of hot, 
dry dust; then the heavy, acrid smell of the swamp; then 
the penetrating, unforgettable aroma of the duneland 
pines; and finally that stirring freshness, the breath of 
the great inland lake. 

I was usually some distance ahead of the horses when 



we reached the descent to the shore. As far as I could 
see the beach stretched away, deserted and lonely, as 
unaltered by civilization as though man had never 
existed. My first concern was the water. Under my 
clothes I wore a woolen bathing suit inherited from my 
father. Behind me, as I raced across the hot sand, I left 
a trail of discarded garments. The water of the lake was 
always cool, even on the hottest days, and that first dip 
was a thing long to be remembered. It was like the first 
lick of an ice-cream cone, the first sip of a wintergreen 
soda, or the first swallow of lemonade after a long walk 
in dusty August. 

Gramp usually went swimming in a pair of overalls. 
He plowed through the water with a determined, steady 
breaststroke, swimming "sailor-fashion" for alarming 
distances. When he reached the second sandbar we all 
would set up a shout for him to come back. But he 
would keep on, his head growing smaller and smaller, 
until finally we saw him stand up, a small figure, resting 
in the shallows of the third and outer bar. 

Once, after his return to shore, he suddenly clapped 
his hand on an overall pocket. 

"Jumpin* Jerusalem!" he ejaculated. "It's gone!" 

"What's gone?"' Gram asked. 

"Th' money!'' 

"What money?** 

"Th* sixty dollars!" 

"What sixty dollars?" 

"YTcnow th* sixty we got fer th' calves. I was afraid 


9 t leave th* roll o ? bills in th' house so I brought 'em along. 
Forgot all about 'em when I went swimmin*. They must 
o' washed out in th' water/' 

Sixty dollars was a great sum and we rushed about 
over the sand, and in the shallow water, but we searched 
in vain. After that, even though the bills were found 
miraculously washed up on the sand the following morn- 
ing, we had no more trouble with Gramp swimming too 
far from shore. He confined himself to the shallow water 
and rarely ventured beyond the sandbar that was nearest 
to the beach. 

As noon approached Gram would start spreading out 
blankets in the shade of a large pine tree. On a table- 
cloth in the middle there would appear a mouth- 
watering array. I would be given the job of shooing flies 
away and as a recompense I was permitted to sample, 
surreptitiously, a chicken wing or a bit of frosting. As 
soon as everything was in place, and Gram gave the 
word, I would dash away to round up the clan. Like a 
sheep-dog harrying a wayward flock, I would urge on the 

In a ring around the central tablecloth we would at- 
tack the mounds of fried chicken, the thick, light slices 
of new bread, the piles of sandwiches, the clusters of 
deviled eggs, the angel food cakes and the buckets of 
lemonade. Sometimes there would be a freezer of home- 
made ice cream, yellow-rich with cream and eggs. At 
other times watermelons would be kept packed in ice 
until Gramp got out his big, bone-handled jackknife, 



wiped it ceremoniously on his overalls, and began cut- 
ting the great crisp, juicy slices, sugar-sweet. 

After dinner, while the older folk sat in the shade or 
snoozed with their hats lying over their faces to keep 
away the flies, I often wandered alone along the deserted 
beach. Sometimes I would walk for miles. White gulls 
would lift from the shore ahead of me and go skimming 
away over the water. Crows would rise from some feast, 
where a fish was stranded, flapping away to duneside 
pines. Their raucous cawing carried far through the hot 
silence. Across the water and along the beach there was 
no sign of human life. The waves of a vast deserted lake 
rolled on a lonely shore. It was thus that the Indians had 
seen the dune country and the French explorers and 
the voyageurs and the earliest pioneers. Here, beyond 
the horizon of the yellow dunes, I entered, for a time, 
a glorious, primitive world of the past. 

As I walked along the beach I tried to pick out the 
high dunes that I could see from my rooftop perch. And 
when I wandered about in one of the amphitheater-like 
blowouts which pierced the ridge of sandhills I would 
climb the farther edge and peer, with shaded eyes, out 
across the green prairies of the bog to the wooded hills 
and hollows beyond. Somewhere in that direction lay 
the clustered buildings and the giant tree of Lone Oak 

On open spaces of clear sand, among the dunes, I 
would find traceries of beetles and centipedes, as delicate 
as lacework. Little lizards, called six-lined swifts, scuttled 


among the leaves and grass. Absorbed in such things, I 
would wander far. Then, suddenly, I would be overtaken 
by fears of becoming lost among the dunes and I would 
hurry back to the beach, which stretched away like an 
open road bordered by the dunes and the water. 

On the way back I would loiter and zigzag, following 
the wave-marks on the wet sand, picking up treasures 
corks from fishing nets, drowned insects, water-smoothed 
pebbles, and small and fragile shells. Occasionally I 
came upon the bony armor-plates of a dead sturgeon or 
a drowned bat or stranded timbers from some wrecked 
vessel. When I arrived with my treasure-trove back at 
the site of the picnic Gram would be packing the silver- 
ware into the baskets and Gramp would be fortifying 
himself with remnants of the feast before hitching the 
horses to the wagon. 

We all would be more subdued on the way back. The 
heat of the day would lessen as the sun drew nearer the 
horizon and we would jolt along, relaxed and happy, as 
the horses headed for home. Oftentimes we stopped to 
pass the time of day with the Nicholsons, who lived in the 
house among the pines. 

The father was superintendent of a huge area which 
had been purchased by a member of the Chicago Board 
of Trade, A. Stamford White, in the late Eighteen-Hun- 
dreds. Originally it comprised an area of 2,200 acres and 
stretched for five miles along the shore of the lake. Both 
the Palmers, the earliest caretakers living in the isolated 
farmhouse, and the Nicholsons, the occupants of a later 



day, were friends of my grandparents. 

According to the story, the wilderness of dunes and 
swampland had been purchased with the idea of turning 
it into a summer resort. Grasses of various kinds were 
sent out to the Palmers and tested in an effort to anchor 
down the shifting yellow sand. None of them succeeded 
and the scheme was abandoned. Then cattle were estab- 
lished among the lush vegetation of the marshes. Rattle- 
snakes, striking the lowered noses of the feeding animals, 
made this project unprofitable. Hearing that some breeds 
of pigs are nearly immune to snakebite, the owner 
shipped out a herd of red porkers. They not only seemed 
unaffected by the snakes but sometimes killed and ate 
the reptiles. At times there would be hundreds of these 
red pigs fattening in pens for the packing houses. 

By the time our horses swung around the bend by 
O'Keefe's woods and we saw the comforting sight of the 
great oak, rising black against the sunset sky, Gramp and 
I both were "as dry as chips and as hungry as wolves." 
The jolting had shaken us down and we were ready for 
more. We slaked our thirst on spring water and set about 
the chores. 

While we fed the chickens and pigs and calves and 
Gramp milked the cows, Gram stirred golden cornmeal 
into boiling, salted water in an iron pot. She added two 
fresh eggs and beat the mixture steadily for three minutes. 
Then she covered the pot and set it on the back of the 
range for twenty minutes. Her own inimitable kind of 
commeal mush was ready. 


Half an hour later, when twilight had fallen and we had 
finished our various tasks, we found bowls of mush and a 
pitcher of creamy milk awaiting us. On this simple fare 
we ended our day of adventure. 




HIRED hands caine and went at Lone Oak. Some were 
local men and some drifted into the circle of our lives and 
drifted out again almost like moths pausing in the light 
of a street-lamp and then winging their way out into the 
darkness beyond. We knew relatively little about many 
of them their history or their destination. They became 
members of the family for the space of a harvest season; 
then they disappeared forever. A few lived on in memory 
through their eccentricities. 

There was one giant of a man, a silent Swede about 
fifty years old, who had a mania for clean shirts. Two or 
170 '* 


three times a day he would disappear into the barn to 
reappear clad in a different shirt. In the evening we would 
see him down by the spring, washing his shirts and hang- 
ing them on the fence to dry. As I remember it, he seemed 
to have a single pair of trousers but an inexhaustible sup- 
ply of shirts. 

Another hired hand, who stayed for nearly a year, was 
a wiry little Irishman with an uptilted nose, a hot-potato- 
in-his-mouth brogue and the not-uncommon name of Pat. 
Pat had a tremendous capacity for excitement culminating 
in what appeared to be lapse of memory. When he was 
hoeing in one field and Gramp in another he would sud- 
denly throw down his hoe as though he had just re- 
membered something of life-and-death importance. He 
would run like mad across the fields, waving his arms and 

"Mishter Way! Mishter Way! MISHTER WAY!" 

Thinking the house was on fire or Pat had been bitten 
by a rattlesnake, Gramp would drop his hoe and run to 
meet him, shouting: "What is it, Pat?" 

Pat would reach him breathless, stop, scratch his head, 
and say: "Oh, nuthinY* 

Then he would plod silently back across the fields and 
resume his hoeing. Gramp could never quite make up his 
mind whether he was affected by the sun or was just get- 
ting a rest and relieving the monotony with synthetic 

Of all the hired hands who received their dollar a day 
from Gramp the one I remember best is Smith Hill. 



He was a large-framed man, six feet in height but so 
stooped and bowed that he seemed fully half a foot 
shorter. His face was, as Gramp put it, the color of a 
peeled potato. His silky, corn-tassel beard never attained 
a length of more than three inches. It had the same pale 
yellow hue as his hair. Eyes, which were unusually large 
and of the palest blue, looked out from beneath a brow, 
abnormally high and unmarred by a single wrinkle. 

When he walked, Smith Hill seemed to be wearing 
snowshoes. He shuffled along with a slow, measured tread, 
his oversize shoes sliding along the surface of the ground. 
To insure against having his toes pinched, he always 
bought shoes several sizes too large. When the soles wore 
through he put on new soles himself, using carpet tacks 
and clinching over the points inside. Almost never were 
his shoes mates and frequently he would put in an ap- 
pearance at the farm with one foot encased in a rubber 
boot and the other in a leather shoe. 

As though to make up for the slowness of his gait, Smith 
took unusually long steps. Even so, more than an hour 
was consumed in plodding to Lone Oak from his cabin a 
mile and a half to the south. His activity throughout the 
day was equally deliberate. Nothing could spur him on to 
greater effort because, literally, he was going at top speed. 
For decades a simile current in the region was: As slow as 
Smith Hill. 

Once Gramp found him picking up apples with one 
hand, his other hand resting comfortably in a capacious 
overall pocket. In the interests of increased production, 


Gramp remarked that a neighboring farmer, in a similar 
situation, had once asked a hired man: 

"How much would you charge for the use of your other 

The barb missed the mark entirely. Smith Hill shook 
his head slowly and remarked with deliberate emphasis: 
"He always was an insultin' old feller, want he?" 

In the midst of the potato harvest one summer, when 
we were busy picking up the crop, putting big potatoes 
in one bag and little potatoes in another, Gramp dis- 
covered that Smith had been dropping big and little 
potatoes in the same bag. He had him dump them out and 
sort them over. Smith remarked dryly: 

"Wai, Ed, ef y want t' pay me fer pickin' 'taters up 
an' dumpin' 'em out an' pickin' 'em up again, don't know 
as I orter care." 

At the time of the Russo-Japanese War he took a great 
interest in the fortunes of the Russians. Each morning he 
would appear at the kitchen door with the same query: 
"What's the news about Rooshie?'* 

Gram, who always read the paper to Gramp while he 
lay on the couch and rested or went to sleep would 
summarize the events as given in the latest dispatches. 
She took a kindly interest in Smith and often at the end 
of the day, when he was leaving, she would slip some 
fresh food into the battered tin lard pail in which he 
brought his lunch. Whenever she asked him if he would 
like something of the kind some fresh Johnnycake, or 
meat, or cookies, or buttermilk he would hesitate a 



minute and then remark: ** *T would come in handy/* 

During winter months, when he sometimes came over 
to help in sawing wood, he "sat in" for hot meals when 
noon arrived. He had peculiarities of his own in con- 
nection with mealtime. In spite of his old clothes he was 
fanatically clean. He would scrub and lather and snort 
and suds for an unconscionably long time while Gramp 
and I restrained ourselves with difficulty from attacking 
the fried pork and steaming boiled potatoes set out on 
the oilcloth-covered kitchen table. 

Smith liked tea and soup boiling hot. He never drank 
tea from a cup. Invariably he poured a few tablespoonfuls 
into the saucer, swirled it around with slow dexterity to 
cool it to his taste and then gulped it down, smacking his 
lips loudly after each swallow. In the matter of soup, he 
scorned the smaller spoons. He wanted the largest one 
available. With such a utensil he would ladle out some of 
the boiling-hot fluid, then, holding the spoon as far from 
his lips as was practicable, he would suck the soup across 
the intervening space, cooling it in transit. 

One blustery March day, after the meal was over and 
he and Gramp were sitting before the kitchen range stor- 
ing up a little extra heat before going out into the piercing 
wind, Smith remarked out of a clear sky: 

"Wai, Ed, so y' fin'ly got rich!" 

Gramp laughed. 

"I hadn't heard about it," he said. 

**Y* own yer own place, don'tcha?" 

"Well, yes/* 


"Y' got horses an' cows an' chickens, ain'teha?" 

"Y ? got a rig t' ride in? Y' got a good wife an* good 
children? Y* take two newspapers, don'tcha?" 

xr 9> 


"Well, ef y' don't think yer rich now when will y* be?" 

In his younger days Smith lived in a one-room log cabin 
with his father, two brothers Zack and Rufus, and a sister 
Lavina. Early one Sunday morning a neighbor was 
driving past the cabin when a sudden hubbub broke out 
within. There were howls and screams and the sound of 
scuffling. Chairs were overturned and above the coin- 
motion Rufus was shouting at the top of his lungs: 

"Shirt him, Pap, shirt him! I'll help!" 

The neighbor hitched his horse and went in to in- 
vestigate. He was met at the door by the breathless old 

"Oh, it ain't nothing he explained. "Eve/ Sunday we 
have t* git out th' pitchforks f make Zack put on a clean 

Smith's only sister, Lavina, eventually married a man 
named Clark and moved to a cabin near Burdick. Their 
only child was a daughter, named Jerushia. Life was far 
from easy for the family and after a dozen years the 
husband was killed, late one fall, in an accident When 
Lavina was told the news, her first reaction was: 

"Wai, wa'nt that just like him t* go an* git hisself 
killed 'fore he banked up th' house fer th' winter!" 

Later she and Jerushia made ends meet as best they 



could. One time Gram stopped to see if Lavina wanted 
a ride to church. 

"I'd like t' go, Mis' Way," she said, Td like t' go power- 
ful well. But I kaint Jerushy's got th' stockin's on." 

For a dozen years, off and on, Smith Hill helped out as 
an "extra hand" at Lone Oak. As the years went by his 
movements became even slower. In exasperation Gramp 
would declare: 

"Beside Smith a snail is a streak o* greased lightnin*. 
He's th' slowest man on th ? face o* the earth, s' help me 

But there came a time when our years of joking turned 
to emotions of pity and regret. For the end of Smith 
Hill's handicapped days came in a singularly tragic man- 
ner. Caught in a blizzard, he was making his way home 
along the Michigan Central Railroad tracks when he was 
struck and killed by a through-express. 

He had carefully chosen the left-hand track in order 
to face any train which might approach. But during the 
hours he was slowly plodding between the rails a tie-up 
occurred on the right-hand tracks. At Michigan City a 
dispatcher, in his lighted brick tower amid the storm, had 
shunted the fast express to the left-hand rails where Smith 
was walking. Thus the train, running on the wrong tracks, 
had come out of the snow behind him. 




I HAD made a great discovery. 

In the Field of the Serpents, north of Cramp's woods, 
the drifting of the sand had brought to light the bleached 
skeleton of a long-dead cow. Day after day I had returned 
to the spot, on the alert for wriggling serpents and stop- 
ping at frequent intervals to remove sandburrs from my 
bare feet And day after day I had struggled home again 
laden with ribs and femurs, with bones from neck and 

In one corner of the wagonshed the pile of these 
trophies grew in size until the whole skeleton of the cow 



was there, with the white skull resting in a place of honor 
on top. The most spectacular exhibit of all had been added 
to my wagonshed museum. 

That summer, while the mowing machines, cultivators, 
and horse-rakes were again out in the fields, I had taken 
possession of the long, low, black-tarpaper-covered struc- 
ture. This time it was for the housing of a rapidly ac- 
cumulating mass of arrowheads, birds' nests, oddly 
twisted sticks from the north woods, and other natural 
history odds and ends. Lettered on the cover of a straw- 
berry crate and nailed to one of the uprights of the shed 
was the legend: 


The open front of the wagonshed faced the south; its 
back was to the north. Thus, during those driving winter 
blizzards which swept down over the Great Lakes out of 
the northwest, the low structure stood like some stoical 
old horse planted firmly with its back to the wind. Tram- 
pled earth formed the floor of the shed and the uprights 
were thick poles of sassafras. To some of these poles the 
ridged, rough bark still clung. On others it had been worn 
away and the wood beneath was polished where the cows 
had nibbed their necks on days when the flies were bad. 

Along the back of this shed I had constructed a rising 
tier of narrow shelves. Gram let her dish-washing wait 
while she helped me arrange on two of these shelves the 
arrowheads, spearheads, and tomahawk-heads that I had 
picked up on The Island and in the fields at plowing time. 


During one whole day I sawed limbs from a score or more 
of trees to get exhibits of bark and wood. There were rows 
of leaves and acorns from the great oak tree. There were 
wasp-nests and the masonry of the mud-daubers. Empty 
birds' nests had many shelves to themselves. In one day 
I collected fourteen kinds of birds' nests. The easiest to 
get were the mud bowls of the robins and the hair-lined 
nests of the chipping sparrows; the hardest, the dangling 
baskets of the orioles. 

Queerly shaped roots were lined up along one wall. 
Discarded snakeskins dangled their translucent lengths 
above them. Stones of various sizes and shapes, colors and 
histories, terraced the foot of the opposite wall. Some of 
these stones, water-polished, came from the dunes, as 
did the fish skeletons, the drowned insects, and the bony 
armor-plating of the sturgeon. Small medicine bottles 
held different kinds of dirt and sand. And cheese boxes, 
nailed to various parts of the shed's interior, held a fearful 
and wonderful assortment of oddments. 

Crayon-labeled bits of cardboard informed the casual 
visitor of the character and rarity of each exhibit. In this 
work the birds' nests and snakeskins were comparatively 
easy. But when I reached the mineralogical specimens I 
was stumped. Above the sloping pile of rocks I placed a 
single large sign reading: STONES. 

My initial inscription over the pile of white bones, 
which had been transported with such great labor from the 
Field of the Serpents, stated simply: COW SKELETON. 
As time went on that seemed too drab a heading for this 



stellar attraction. So, after much thought, I changed it to 

On the packed-dirt floor of the shed I used to spend 
hours at a time trying to fit the bones together into a com- 
plete skeleton. I was like the proverbial boy with the 
dismantled watch; there were always some parts left over. 
After such fruitless efforts I would walk down near the 
spring, where Cramp's cows congregated under a tree. 
I would look at the animals with X-ray eyes, trying to 
fathom the mysteries of their bony structure. One mild- 
mannered milch-cow, which Gramp called Mooley, would 
stand patiently for minutes at a time while I ran my hand 
exploringly over her ribs, down her spine, and along her 
forelegs. In all probability, from her viewpoint, I was an 
extra moving tail and chased the flies away. 

Little was learned from such investigations and eventu- 
ally I gave up my efforts and arranged the bones in rows 
on either side of the weathered skull. Placed in a de- 
creasing scale of size beyond were the skulls of a dog, 
a cat, a rabbit, a rat, and a mouse. 

Hand-in-hand with this gathering of museum speci- 
mens another activity kept me absorbed. This was the 
jotting down of nature notes. W. H. Hudson, in one of his 
essays, refers to the process of putting down notes while 
walking afield as "picking up sticks/' When you have 
enough sticks you can start a fire. When he had enough 
notes he could write an essay. Similarly Thomas Gray, 
of the classic Elegy , used to maintain that one note jotted 


down on the spot was worth a wagonload of reminis- 

Before I was eight years old I was, without knowing it, 
following the precepts of Hudson and Gray. As I roamed 
the fields I scribbled down notes on the things I saw. The 
entries were made in little pocket notebooks, some brown, 
some black, some yellow. The spelling was erratic and the 
letters of the penciled words often headed in different 
directions. But the meaning of the sentences was clear. 

"This morning," reads one entry, "I scratched my head 
in bed. The hairs rubed together and made a squeek. 
Tippie-Tail, the kitten, jumped on my head." Another 
notation records: "While I was walking acros an open 
space, a kingbird flue down and struck me. This kept up 
until I hollored. Then it quit. This afternoon, when I went 
acros the same place, it hapened again. I saw the bird had 
a nest in a near by tree." "Today," a third memorandum 
states, "I saw a baby chick on its mother's back and the 
mother was walking along, too." "I wandered in the woods 
today, making nature notes," says a fourth entry. "I picked 
a pocketful! of wintergreen berrys there and sat on a 
mossy log eating them while a song sparrow sang to me/* 
"Under the big oak tree," I put down on another day, 
"when I was writing in this book, Tippie-Tail kept trying 
to rub his whiskers on the end of my pencil/* 

Some of the notations were short and factual, such as: 
"Hairs do not turn into snakes/* "Mole's fir can turn 
anyway and will not hold mold*" "When I was little, a 



friend and I found a bulfrog that wouldent fit into a 
quart pail." "Chips fly as far as nine paces from the tree 
when flickers are burrowing a hole/' 

In one of the notebooks, with a well-eroded pasteboard 
cover, I entered a census-list of all the creatures I had 
seen at Lone Oak. With the original spelling intact, it 
reads: '"Robin, night-halk, red-headed woodpeccar, blue- 
bird, tad pole, high holor, swallow, tree toad, Virginia 
rale, rabit, morning dove, king fisher, mole, bat, cow, 
mink, nieado mouse, song sparrow, eagle, buzard, dear 
mouse, coon, skunk, weasle, scarlit tanger, butcher bird, 
horse, blacksnake, gartersnake, rattelsnake, sheep, cram." 

A whole notebook was labeled: "atmosphers." It was 
devoted to atmospheric bits and descriptive passages. 
Sample jottings follow: "In the top of the dead tree, two 
flickers noisly go up and down like see-saws." "The smoke 
is an aerial serpant/' "Over Gunder's hill, the sunset was so 
red the rim of the hilltop looked like a prarie-fire was burn- 
ing behind it." "Crybaby came to the door and mewed. 
She was covered with cobwebs/' "Its too hot even to play. 
If there is a breeze, it seems afraid to move for fear it 
will get hot/' "As the twylight lengthened, the only sounds 
were the "Whack! Whack!' of an old man chopping wood 
and the *Mooo!' of a brindel cow/' 

Most of my jottings were set down surreptitiously, out 
of the sight of people. William E. Barton, in his The Life 
of Abraham Lincoln., tells how he once encountered a 
small boy in a clearing among the mountains of Kentucky. 
He was standing beside a brook looking up at the sun 


coming over a range of hills and was repeating in a sing- 
song chant a rhyme that he had composed: 

"Oh, Mountain, big and high: 
111 stand on you and 111 touch the sky!" 

Each time he chanted it he listened to the echo of his 
voice. Suddenly he discovered the presence of a stranger 
on the little-traveled road. In embarrassment he slipped 
silently into the woods. Barton wanted to stop and talk 
to him, but the boy remained hidden. He was, as the 
author puts it, ashamed that he had been overheard in his 
dialogue with the high hill in whose shadow he dwelt. 

Similarly, whenever strangers appeared on the road or 
called at the farm I hid my notebook and pencil. Because 
I was doing something different, something that nobody 
else I knew was doing, I had the feeling that I would be 
laughed at and considered queer. This deathly fear of 
ridicule remained with me for many years. It was only in 
later life that I learned the truth of the old adage: Sticks 
and stones they break my bones, but words they never 
hurt me! Words, in those early days, were sticks and stones 
that seemed to break my bones. 

From earliest memory scenes around me impressed 
themselves deeply on my mind. Certain landscapes, to- 
gether with the sounds, the smells, the activities of the 
moment, are still vivid after a lapse of decades. There is, 
in particular, one Lone Oak moment which has returned to 
me innumerable times. 

A still winter day was drawing to its close. Gramp and 



I had driven home from Michigan City with a bob-sled 
loaded with coal for the parlor stove. As we carried it 
into the cellar, a bushel-basketful at a time, our shoes 
squeaked on the hard-packed snow. The sunset, over 
Gunder's Hill, faded slowly into twilight in that perfect 
stillness which fills the air on certain nights of silent cold. 

There was something in the wide hush of the mantled 
countryside, in the play of colors over the fields of snow; 
something in my physical condition of the moment, or in 
the sadness of an imminent return to school, or in the 
solemnity of the noiseless change from day to dark; some- 
thing which impressed that sunset on my mind more than 
any other I have ever seen. I seemed transported into 
another world; I seemed dwelling on a timeless plain of 
color. Each time I issued from the deep dusk of the 
cellar the tinted snow and sky appeared more entrancing 
than before. In after years, on three or four occasions when 
winter day has been merging into windless dusk, I have 
felt remnants of that long-ago enchantment. 

While the life of my wagonshed museum was relatively 
short it ended with the return of the horse-drawn imple- 
ments to their rightful places in the fall the recording 
of observations in little notebooks continued for years 
thereafter. What the consequence was, and how this 
activity reached its natural climax, will be recorded on 
later pages of this book. 




OVERHE AD the leaves of the great oak hung unmoving* 
Birds were silent The cows lay in the shade chewing their 
cuds with closed eyes, and hens walked about with 
open beaks, croaking dismally. Only the small butterflies 
whirled and danced with unabated intensity. It was mid- 
afternoon and a great blanket of August heat had de- 
scended on the farm. 

I lay on my back in a red-and-green hammock under the 
oak tree. Munching on an early harvest apple, I watched 
three sparrows dusting themselves listlessly in the road- 
way. Then I sat up. I had just remembered something. 



All that summer I had forgotten to investigate the attic. 

As a child I had a cat-like love of attics. There was 
always unexpected treasure to be discovered in the mys- 
terious, dim light of the Lone Oak storeroom. It was a 
repository of history. Attic hours were entrancing journeys 
into the past. 

When I reached the kitchen door Gram was putting 
carbolic acid and water on the screen to keep the flies 

"Why on earth you have to pick the hottest day in all 
the year to go up in the attic is more than I can under- 
stand!" she commented. 

"I didn't think of it before/' I told her, as though that 
explained everything. 

Climbing the narrow, white-painted stairs, I reached 
the upper floor. These stairs were hardly wider than 
Cramp's shoulders and they turned sharply at the top. 
The steps there were shaped like pieces of pie and you had 
to walk around the outer edge of the turn to find suf- 
ficient support for your feet A yellowing Chinese straw- 
mat carpeted the low-ceilinged bedroom at the top of the 
stairs and an iron bed was pushed against the far wall. 
It supported a thick mattress and pillows stuffed with 
down from Gram's own poultry. It was into this bed that 
I tumbled nightly when Gram had ended the evening's 
reading and Gramp had cleared his throat and announced: 

"Well, 'ts time fer honest folk t' be abed an' rogues 

At the point where the stairs reached the level of the 


bedroom a painted wooden door, held shut with a wooden 
button, formed the entrance to the Lone Oak attic. When 
I swung the door back on its hinges a rush of hot air, as 
though from a blast furnace, struck me in the face. The 
interior., just under the peak of the dining-room roof where 
I had perched so often to view the distant dunes, had but 
a single source of ventilation. This was a small, round 
window at the far eastern end. 

The attic was about sixteen feet long. But only the 
first half was covered with floorboards. I took especial 
delight in tightroping along the beams of the unfloored 
part. Between these beams there was nothing but the 
lath and plaster of the ceiling below. Gram was in con- 
tinual fear that some day I would miss my footing and 
appear suddenly, falling through the wallpaper over the 
dining-room table. 

At the door of the attic I took a deep breath and then 
crawled into the stifling interior. Half a dozen mud- 
daubers buzzed about in the still air. I could see their 
pale-yellow masonry cartridges attached to the timbers 
above my head. A large fly followed me through the open 
doorway, adding his higher-pitched buzzing to the drone 
of the wasps. I felt the rafters close above my head. They 
were hot to my touch. A few inches away the August sun 
was pouring its heat from a cloudless sky down onto the 
old shingles of the slanting roof. It now seems something 
of a miracle that, in this attic-oven, the piles o ancient 
magazines never caught fire from spontaneous combus- 



These piles of periodicals lay in shadowy heaps around 
me. The smell of old paper and dust was heavy in the air. 
Through a process of natural selection, the piles furthest 
back in the dim recesses of the attic were the most ancient, 
those near the door the most recent. It was among the 
former that I made the most interesting discoveries. There 
were Ladies Home Journals dating back long before the 
advent of Edward Bok. There were old copies of Harpers 
Magazine, The Youth's Companion, McClure's Magazine, 
Everybody's, and one periodical whose name I cannot 
remember which devoted whole pages to paintings of 

Somewhat like a wild duck, diving below the surface 
after food and returning to the air again, I grabbed maga- 
zines here and there and then bolted out of the door with 
my armload of dusty paper. Gram called from below: 

"Edwin, if you don't keep out of that attic, you'll addle 
your brains T 

My head swam from the close heat. I lay on the floor 
with the retrieved magazines scattered around me on the 
straw-matting. Flies buzzed along the windowpanes and 
up and down the screens. Occasionally a faint breeze 
slipped through the window and ran along the floor 
and I would breathe deeply. 

The story that held me fascinated that long, hot after- 
noon is one that I can recall vividly even today. It was in 
The Youth's Companion and it was written by C. A. 
Stephens, the author of a long series of tales about events 
on the Old Squire's farm, in Maine. Once, years later, I 


swung out of my way, on a trip through that state, to 
hunt up the site of the very farm where the Old Squire, 
Addison, Halstead, Theodora and the others had enjoyed 
the great years of their lives. The hero of those tales, I 
remember, eventually became a noted naturalist as- 
sociated with Louis Agassiz. 

In this particular story, which I had stumbled upon, 
the adventures revolved about a huge dog, Bender, a 
canine Dr. JekyU and Mr. Hyde. By day he was a re- 
spected member of the community, by night the leader of 
an outlaw band of sheep-killing dogs. I recall how I trem- 
bled with anticipation as one of the boys hid in a sheep- 
skin sack amid the flock to catch the mysterious night 
maurauders. And I recall how the dogs attacked the sack, 
mistaking it for a sleeping ewe, and how the boy leaped 
up from the doze into which he had fallen with a great 
cry of alarm which frightened off the outlaw animals. 
After that Bender was a roving Ishmael, with every man's 
hand against him. What befell him and his outlaw band, 
a footnote to the story announced, would be related in the 
following issue of the magazine. 

I hurriedly compared the dates of magazines I had 
around me. The desired issue was not there. I plunged, in 
haste, back into the heat of the attic to emerge, panting, 
with another armload of The "Youth's Companion. None 
of them was the one desired. Again and again I dove into 
the dim light and the stifling heat of the low room. Again 
and again I emerged with everything but the wanted 
magazine. I was wringing wet When I appeared in the 



kitchen in search of a drink of cold water Gram cried: 
"For Heaven's sake, child, where have you been?" 
I looked at myself in the mirror. The dust had turned to 
streaks of mud on my perspiring face. I washed at the 
sink and climbed the stairs once more. Six additional 
armloads appeared from the attic door, and I was carting 
out miscellaneous magazines, before I pounced trium- 
phantly upon the issue so diligently sought. Lying on my 
stomach amid the mounds of magazines, and oblivious to 
the future chore of replacing them all, I plunged happily 
into the rest of the story. 

It was late in the afternoon when I finally reached the 
climax the great dog and his band at bay within a moun- 
tain cavern; the farmers, who had cornered the outlaw 
animals, standing ready with rifles while flames leaped 
from stick to stick amid a high mound of wood which had 
been pushed into the entrance of the cave. And then that 
spine-tingling final moment when Bender, all hope gone, 
lifted his head within the smoke-filled cavern and gave 
voice to the long and mournful howl which was his death- 
song. It was all as real to me as the fly buzzing along the 

Another continued story which came from the attic had 
a less-satisfactory history, 

Cowboys were battling bullet for bullet with cattle- 
rustlers in the first installment of an old Argosy adventure 
tale when Gram read: "To be continued/* We never found 
the next issue and we never learned whether the hero, 
firing from under the belly of his leaping broncho, or the 


outlaw, blazing away from a clump of sagebrush, won the 
deadly duel. From the vantage-point of later experience 
with such works of fiction I think I can guess the answer. 
But then Gramp and I were on needles and pins with in- 

Several mice which, along with the mud-daubers, in- 
habited the attic also contributed to my difficulties. These 
animals were my special enemies. I remember that once 
I stumbled upon a prize a tale about trappers in the far 
Northwest and then discovered that the mice had nib- 
bled away the most exciting part in the runover columns. 
The nests of these rodents among the periodicals always 
seemed to be lined with pieces of the choicest adventure 
stories. Why they couldn't pick the fashion pages of The 
Ladies Home Journal was more than I could understand. 




GRAMP was poking me in the ribs and shouting: "Last 
call fer th' dinin* car!" 

The bedroom windows were hazy gray rectangles fac- 
ing the east. It was four o'clock in the morning and we 
were going to town. 

A trip to town with Gramp was no ordinary journey. 
We were all astir by lamplight. The cracker-wagon had 
been stored with its load of potatoes and sweet corn and 
early apples the night before/While we rushed through 
the early chores, Gram got a hurried breakfast of fried 
mush and maple syrup. Then Gramp wheeled the horses 


into place and hooked the tugs. By four-thirty we were 
ready to go. As a final step Gramp and I changed into our 
"city clothes." This was a time of excitement and alarms. 

" 'Miiny," Gramp would call from the bedroom, "do 
y* suppose iVe got a clean shirt somewhere hereabouts?" 

"Of course you have!" Gram would answer indignantly. 
"YouVe always got a clean shirt in the middle drawer of 
the tall bureau. Just open the drawer and youll see it." 

I would hear Gramp mumble: "Here *t is. Ef it'd been a 
snake it'd a bit me!" 

There would be a silence. Then I could hear him talk- 
ing to himself. A moment later he would appear in the 
doorway with his necktie dangling from one hand. 

"Mother," he would blurt out, "ef y" want me t* wear this 
blamed contraption, yll have t' tie it fer me!" 

Never so long as I knew him did he master the art of 
tying a four-in-hand. Once when he was on the Grand 
Jury, in Valparaiso, he went to bed every night from 
Monday to Friday with his shirt on. 

"I was afraid t ? unfasten that 'tarnal necktie," he ex- 
plained. "I knew I'd never git it tied again." 

To Gramp clothes were something to keep him warm in 
winter and to shelter him from the sun and rain in sum- 
mer. If they accomplished this, they served the purpose 
of their existence and he asked no more. He refused ever 
to take more than one handkerchief. 

"I haven't got a cold," he would say. 

While Gram, intent on maintaining the reputation of 
the family, wimbled out my ears with the wet end of a 



washcloth and plastered down my thatch of unruly hair 
which, she remarked in passing, looked "like the rats 
had slept in it' 7 Gramp would begin hunting for his hat. 
As long as I can remember, there was always an excited 
hunt for his best hat just at the moment of starting. 

After the previous trip to town he had put it away 
specially in some place where it would be safe. Sometimes 
we would find it hanging on the corner of a picture-frame, 
sometimes back of the dining-room door, sometimes on 
top of the kitchen cupboard. If, by chance, someone had 
put it away on the closet-shelf, where it belonged, Gramp 
would say indignantly; 

"No wonder I can't find my hat! It's hid away clear out 
o* sight!" 

Finally all would be ready. We would climb up to the 
weathered wooden seat of the old cracker-wagon and 
Gramp would adjust a blanket over the baskets of fruit 
and potatoes to keep out the dust. Then with shouted 
"Good-byes" as though we were departing for a long 
journey we would rush down the lane and out into the 
sandy road that led to Michigan City. 

That six-mile drive through the cool air of dawn was 
always filled with beauty and interest. Birds were awaken- 
ing, rabbits were out in the open fields, and in the lowland 
hollows sheets of luminous mist glowed in the sunrise. 
This was the hour that the French painter, Corot, strove 
throughout his life to portray on canvas. "The sun is 
risen," he used to say. "All things break forth glistening, 
glittering and shining in a full flood of light. It is adorable. 


I paint! I paint! A little later, the sun, aflame, bums the 
earth. Everything becomes heavy. We can see too much 
now. Let us go home." 

Usually Gramp and I took produce to market about 
once a week, but at times when sweet com or string beans 
were in season we sometimes went to Michigan City 
every other day for a week or so. One morning, during 
such a period, we passed a neighbor's field where he was 
doing some early hoeing before the heat of the day. 

"Ed/' he called, "what y goin' t* town so soon again 

"Th' clock's stopped," Gramp replied with a wink at me. 
"We hev t' go t' town t* see what time *t is!" 

True to his pioneer spirit, Gramp soon tired of the 
taineness of traveling the same route to the city. For a 
time he would take the old Chicago road, coming into the 
city past the gray walls of the state penitentiary. Then he 
would switch and go by way of the Carver schoolhouse. 
Sometimes we would come into town along Tenth Street, 
past Billy Miller's meat market; at other times we would 
approach from the south, rolling over the red brick pave- 
ment of Ohio Street. One summer Gramp insisted on going 
out of his way on each trip to the city in order to stop at 
a "health spring" that bubbled out of a clay bank. The 
water had a sulphurous, repulsive odor. But Gramp in- 
sisted we drink long draughts for our stomachs* sake. 

As we rode along he sometimes told me about Michigan 
City as it was in 1854, when he first saw it as a boy of 
thirteen. Then it was a dreary settlement of about 1,500 



inhabitants. To keep wagon-wheels from sinking in the 
sand, planks had been laid along the main street. It was 
known as The Grand Plank Road. The only bank in town, 
a bank whose money was good only in the county, was 
known as the Plank Road Bank and the money was called 
Grand Plank money. Soon after they had come west 
Gramp and one of his brothers picked two milkpails full 
of wild dewberries and carried them six miles to the city 
to trade for a piece of pork. 

"We had tough sleddin' in those days/' he said. "Many a 
time we didn't hev meat enough t' grease th' pan/' 

By the time our cracker-wagon reached the city limits, 
women were up and we proceeded to skim the cream of 
customers before the stores opened. We would drive down 
a street and Gramp would yell: 

"Apples! Potatoes! Sweet corn!" 

When customers appeared from the houses, I would 
jump down and measure out the desired peck of potatoes 
or half bushel of apples. An annual agreement was that if 
I picked up the good apples for Gramp, I could sell the 
small and wormy ones at reduced prices for myself. To 
Cramp's disgust, my inferior, half -priced apples usually 
sold out first of all. On some days nobody seemed to want 
to buy anything. 

"Mebby there's been a run on th* bank!" Gramp would 

After we had plodded up and down half a dozen side- 
streets, on one such day, without selling a single potato 
or apple, Gramp got desperate. He decided to add a new 


flourish to his call. He shouted: 

"Apples! Potatoes! Sweet corn! Bananas!" 
Two women appeared immediately. Both asked for 
bananas. Cramp's ears got red. He mumbled something 
about the bananas not being fully ripe yet and we drove 
hastily around the corner. 

Before noon our load of produce usually had been 
changed into cash. With money jingling in my pocket, I 
would turn to the pleasures of the day. Leaving Deck and 
Colty hitched to the iron pipe at Sixth and Main Streets, 
we would, first of all, head for the Canditorium. 

During the preceding days, when I had been digging 
potatoes with the smell of hot dry dust in my nostrils 
and the weight of the burning sunshine on my back I 
had dreamed of this moment: of opening the screen door, 
of entering the cool, dim interior, of pulling back a chair 
with the faint, complaining screech of metal on tile, of 
looking over the printed menu, of weighing all the virtues 
of all the concoctions, of always deciding on the same 
thing a wintergreen soda and of that final blissful 
moment when with its pink foam rising like sunset- 
tinted clouds the soda was set before me. All now be- 
came an actuality. 

Gramp and I always ceremoniously treated each other 
to sodas. At first we compromised on who should pay for 
the treat. I paid for his soda and he paid for mine. 
Then I hit upon a better plan. It brought satisfaction to 
all, even to lie proprietor of the store. I treated Gramp, 
paying for his soda as well as my own, and then he treated 



me in a turnabout procedure. In this way we had two 
wintergreen sodas without feeling we had been unduly 

It always took our eyes a minute or two to accustom 
themselves to the dim lighting of the Canditorium when 
we came in from the glaring sunshine outside. Once, when 
I looked around as my eyes became accustomed to the 
semi-dusk, I noticed a lady sitting with several com- 
panions at a corner table. She was wearing one of the less 
fortunate creations of the milliner's art a barrel-like hat 
with a single bedraggled feather rising upright from the 
top. I nudged Gramp: 

"Isn't that a funny hat, Gramp?" I whispered. 

"What'd y' say?" 

"I said, isn't that a funny hat that woman's got on?" 

"What woman? What hat? I can't hear y' unless y 9 
speak up." 

I said: "Never mind/' 

Just then he caught sight of the hat himself. 

"Thet is a funny hat," he said in a stage whisper. "Looks 
like she's got on a churn." 

Our thirst quenched for the time-being by the two 
wintergreen sodas, we began shopping. While Gramp 
bought the groceries, I stocked up on Jumbo wintergreen 
gum, got some peppermint candies for Gram, and prowled 
among the magazines at the bookstore. Our final stop was 
the real high point of the day. This was the Michigan City 
Public Library, cool under its great elms and with the 
lawns around it freshly sprinkled. 


I knew the interior of this square graystone building 
almost as well as I did the fields of Lone Oak. With a pile 
of returning books under my arm, I would enter the quiet 
building filled with the mingled, mysterious smell of old 
leather, stored books, and piles of magazines and pa- 
pers. On one wall there was a case containing thirty-three 
mounted butterflies, the first that I had ever seen, and I 
used to stand fascinated by their shapes and colors. The 
librarians there were always kind to us and few buildings 
in the world have meant more to me than this gray store- 
house of learning and adventure. 

With another armload of books animal stories, natural 
histories, adventure novels, volumes on aviation I would 
reappear after the lapse of half an hour or so and we 
would set out for home. 

There was one more event which crowned the pleasures 
of the day. On our leisurely progress out of town we used 
to stop at Glidden's Bakery for fresh buns. A little farther 
on we halted at Billy Miller's butcher shop for a six-inch 
piece of bologna. At the grocery store next door we bought 
a large bottle of Lomax root beer. Restraining ourselves 
as best we could, we waited until we had reached the turn 
by Dorans woods before we pulled up in the shade to dine 
at leisure. 

With Cramp's jadkknife we would cut open the buns 
and slice off pieces of bologna to make sandwiches. Then 
we would knock the cap off the root beer bottle on the hub 
of a front wheel and imbibe foaming draughts that held 
the flavor of roots and herbs, of sassafras and wintergreen. 



After that we rode on in silence, the traces creaking, the 
hoofs of the horses clumping steadily in the soft sand, 
the grasshoppers shrilling from the fields and the cicadas 
from the trees overhead. I usually became lost in one of 
the books, suddenly waking up to reality as we passed 
O'Keefe's woods and came in sight of Lone Oak. 

It was usually mid-afternoon, or at sunset, when we 
reached home. That night we would hurry through the 
chores, feeding the chickens and pigs and cows and horses, 
collecting the eggs and bringing in the wood for the 
kitchen stove. When Gramp had milked and Gram had the 
supper dishes washed and put away, we would settle 
down with eager anticipation. Gram would adjust her 
silver-rimmed spectacles, turn up the lamp-wick, and 
begin the first of the story-books books that we had 
never heard of before, books usually by authors whose 
names were unknown to us, books that had been resting, 
like machines thrown out of gear, on the shelves of a 
library but a few short hours before. 




A FAMOUS explorer once told me that he never started 
on an expedition without packing Alice in Wonderland 
in his luggage. He had read it a hundred times or more 
in the light of jungle campfires, amid the crags and 
plateaus of remote mountains, beneath cabin lamps on 
ships moored in lonely bays. The adventures of Alice and 
the Gryphon, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, the 
Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts, had thus been 
linked, in retrospect, with strange peoples and bizarre 
surroundings. In his mind the pages of this childhood clas- 
sic could evoke images of coral reefs and rain forests, 



of outlandish coasts and storms at sea. 

So, for all of us, the books that have affected us deeply 
and the surroundings where they have been read are 
linked in memory. The poems of Swinburne, for me, 
always bring to mind a wide, placid river flowing slowly, 
irresistibly through a country of drooping willows and 
high, eroded banks. The haze of twilight lies over the 
empty water. My rowboat turns languidly around and 
around as it drifts downstream. It was thus, during an 
adventurous summer of my college years when I rowed 
four hundred miles down the Ohio River to the Missis- 
sippi, that I first encountered the rich imagery and the 
sonorous lines of Swinburne. 

King Lear, his wild white hair and beard flying in the 
great storm on the heath, is similarly linked in memory 
with the waiting room of a dingy inter-urban station at 
Morris, 111. There I first read the play from end to end one 
sultry Sunday afternoon when I had missed connections 
and was marooned for hours. For me the wit and valor of 
Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac is joined in memory with 
the image of a lonely river-bank west of Wichita, in 
Kansas; Henri AmieFs Journals with a green park bench 
amid the skyscrapers of Manhattan; the thoughts of Mar- 
cus Aurelius with the sycamores of a meandering creek in 
Indiana; and BoswelFs Life of Johnson with a straggling 
grove of eucalyptus trees on a headland of the California 

But more vividly than any of these associations, the 
images of Lone Oak surroundings are joined with books. 


Merely the titles of some of those entrancing early volumes 
When Wilderness Was King,, The Green Mountain 
Boys, The Deerslayer, Barriers Burned Away, Wings of 
the Morning are sufficient to bring back the crying of 
the whippoorwills, the smell of the kerosene lamp, the 
fluttering of moth-wings along the lighted window- 
screens, as Gram read on and on during those long-ago 
summer nights. 

Heinricli Heine, the poet, tells in his autobiography a 
little wistfully of the undying impression made upon 
him by his first book of fiction. His parents intended him 
for a career in business and purposely kept him ignorant 
of the whole world of imaginative literature. Thus it hap- 
pened that when he encountered his first volume of fiction 
The Life and Adventures of the Ingenious Gentleman 
Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes he 
accepted it as a book of fact. 

"I was still a very small boy/* he relates. "I stole from the 
house in the early morning and hurried away to the 
Palace gardens, there to read Don Quixote in peace. 
Spring, in bloom, lay listening in the still morning light 
and had her praises sung by the nightingale, her sweet 
flatterer. I sat upon a mossy old bench of stone in the 
Avenue of Sighs, as they call it, not far from the water- 
fall and charmed my little heart with the brave adventures 
of the bold knight. I took it all in earnest and however 
laughably the poor hero might be the sport of Fate, I 
thought it must be so. 

"Dulcinea's knight rose higher and higher in my esteem 



and won ever more my love the longer I read the wonder- 
ful book, and this I did every day in the garden, so that by 
autumn I had come to an end of the history and never 
shall I forget the day when I read of the sorrowful en- 
counter in which the knight was so shamefully laid low! 

"It was a sad day. Ugly clouds scudded across the gray 
sky, the yellow leaves fell down drearily from the trees, 
heavy tear drops hung upon the last flowers; the song of 
the nightingale had died away; on all sides I was forced 
to see the signs of mortality, and my heart was like to break 
when I read how the noble knight, crushed and con- 
founded, lay upon the ground and without raising his 
visor, as though he spoke from the grave, in a sick weak 
voice said to the victor: 'Dulcinea is the most beautiful 
lady in the world and I am the most unfortunate knight 
upon the earth, but it is not seemly that my weakness 
should blaspheme this truth therefore, knight, make an 
end with thy lance!* Alas! This famous Knight of the Silver 
Moon, who overcame the bravest and noblest man in the 
world, was a barber in disguise!" 

Although we knew, at Lone Oak, the difference be- 
tween books of fact and books of fiction, we lost ourselves 
completely in the more exciting tales. The purring sound 
of Cramp's pipe would increase its tempo and I would 
lie, round-eyed, on the dining-room floor while the stories 
unfolded themselves, chapter by chapter. Some of the 
books which made the deepest impression on me at the 
time were Eben Holden, by Irving Bacheller; The Crisis 
and The Crossing, by Winston Churchill; The Sky Pilot, 


by Ralph Connor; The Riverman, by Stewart Edward 
White; The Wolf Hunters, by James Oliver Curwood; and 
the novels of Cooper, Dickens, and Mark Twain. All were 
exciting tales and most of them concerned the out-of- 

One summer we found a book of non-fiction that was 
as thrilling as the most exciting novel. It was a thick vol- 
ume of more than 600 pages and we had to renew it at 
the library several times before we came to the final page. 
It was Paul du Chaillu's story of his explorations in darkest 
Africa. In vivid detail it told of his encounters with croco- 
diles, bull elephants, rhinoceroses, jungle serpents, and 
huge gorillas. As the story went on and on, Gram used 
to get out Montietlis Geography and we would follow, 
down the rivers and into the jungle areas, the progress 
of our hero. 

Another non-fiction book, a thin volume with green 
covers and woodcut illustrations of volcanoes and can- 
nibals in outrigger canoes, also sent me to the geography, 
seeking maps relating to the other side of the globe from 
Africa. This volume told of adventures in the South Sea 
Islands. It had been published by a missionary society and 
had found its way to the bookshelves which had been 
built along one wall in the parlor at Lone Oak. 

The juvenile books which we read at that time began 
with Kingsley's The Water Babies and ran through a 
range which included The Four Boy Hunters, Adventures 
of a Brownie, Helens Babies, and The Motor Boys. One 
juvenile book, first read when I was about eight, had a 



powerful effect upon me an effect which continued for 
years thereafter. This was The Real Diary of a Real Boy, 
by Henry A. Shute. 

Shute was a New Hampshire lawyer and judge who 
wrote books of humor in his spare time. His best-selling 
story of the doings of "Plupy Shute" was written in the 
misspelled vernacular popular among humorists of the 
time. I bought a composition book in Michigan City and 
began recording the events of the day at Lone Oak. Un- 
fortunately, Plupy Shute was my model and my master. 

I sought to add humor by orthographic eccentricities. 
This training, added to a natural inclination for ignoring 
the dictates of Webster, ruined whatever spelling ability 
I may have possessed. Throughout grade-school and in 
high school and college, and even when I had a graduate 
degree from an eastern university, my spelling was a 
stumbling-block and a by-word. The longer, more diffi- 
cult words which I had learned in later life I could 
spell correctly while the commonplace, simple words, that 
everybody knew, were the ones I was most likely to mis- 
spell. Thus my deficiency was obvious to all. 

Years later, when I was earning my living as an editorial 
writer, a friendly editor reached the end of his patience. 

"Who is this B-a-c-c-u-s you mention?" he asked. 

"That's the Greek god." 

"Well, his name is spelled B-A-C-C-H-U-S. B-a-c-c-u-s 
doesn't spell anything except ignorance!" 

Decades passed, and I had begun to make Webster's 
Dictionary my constant writing companion, before the 


effects of Plupy Shute began gradually to dissipate. At 
Lone Oak the large dictionary on its upright stand was 
considered by me as merely a repository for interesting 
pictures of airplanes and birds and butterflies. I used to 
spend hours, standing first on one foot and then on the 
other, poring over these familiar picture-pages. Other 
memorable picture-mines at Lone Oak were Wood's Nat- 
ural History and Steeles Popular Zoology. 

Nature books of various kinds formed an important 
item on our literary bill-of-fare. Gram had definite pref- 
erences in her likes and dislikes among books of the kind. 
One evening, when "the weary and unintelligible weight 
of the world," and the ways of mankind, were too much 
for her, she said: 

"I don't like stories that make animals talk and act like 
humans. The reason I like animals is because they aren't 
like humans!" 

Among the favorites which I begged Gram to read 
again and again were Shaggycoat, the story of a beaver, 
by Clarence Hawkes; Red Fox, by Charles G. D. Roberts; 
and Bears of Blue River, by Charles Major. Above them 
all were those classics of their kind, the early animal 
stories of Ernest Thompson Seton. I have no idea how 
many times we read Wild Animals I Have Known, The 
Trail of the Sandhill Stag, Two Little Savages, The Biog- 
raphy of a Grizzly, or Lives of the Hunted. 

But I remember that oftenest of all we turned to that 
thrilling story of Krag, the Kootenay Ram reading again 
and again the tale of Scotty MacDougalTs long pursuit, 



of the death of the great mountain sheep, and of the cli- 
max in which the avalanche avenged his killing. Although 
I knew the story by heart, I always gripped my chair and 
felt a tingle running down my spine when Gram came to 
those final sentences: 

"All that day, the White Wind blew. ... It sang a 
wild, triumphant battle-song, and the strain of the song 

I am the mothering White Wind; 

This is my hour of miglit. 

The hills and the snows are my children; 

My service they do tonight. 

"And here and there, at the word received, there were 
mighty doings among the peaks. . * . Down the Gunder 
peak there whirled a monstrous mass charged with a mis- 
sion of revenge. Down, down, down, loud snoofing as it 
went, and sliding on from shoulder, ledge, and long in- 
cline, now wiping out a forest that would bar its path, 
then crashing, leaping, rolling, smashing over cliff and 
steep descent, still gaining as it sped. Down, down, faster, 
fiercer, in one fell and fearful rush, and Scotty's shanty, 
and all that it contained, was crushed and swiftly blotted 
out. The Ram's own Mother White Wind, from the west- 
ern sea, had come had long delayed, but still had come 
at last/* 

In a way, during the evenings of those golden summer 
days, my passionate love of the out-of-doors and my in- 
terest in the world of books found a common meeting- 


ground. I even dreamed of some glorious, far-off future 
shrouded in a sort of glowing mist when I, too, would 
write a book. I began to jot down expanded notes about 
the activity of the wild creatures around me and all the 
moods of Nature. I plunged into writing with all the in- 
tensity of a new enthusiasm. 

That enthusiasm has burned on after so much that then 
surrounded it has passed away. A curious enchantment, 
with its lonely battles and its peculiar satisfactions, it re- 
mained the constant star through the long later years, 
the years of tacking and zigzagging, of making the best 
of other work, of indecision and despair. 




THE wild birds, the small animals, and especially the 
cats, at Lone Oak were the subjects of some of my earliest 
attempts at writing. 

A numerous population of cats and kittens black-and- 
white, calico, and tabby lived about the barn. At milk- 
ing time they would rub, purring, against Cramp's legs. 
Occasionally he would relieve the monotony of his task 
by directing a thin, white stream of milk into the open 
mouth of a mewing kitten. It would blink its eyes tight 
shut and splutter in surprise. Then its eyes would pop 
open, its pink tongue would appear running along its 


whiskers and it would begin to lick itself with purring 
satisfaction. Often times I lined up, open-mouthed, along 
with the kittens. 

Every cat at Lone Oak had its own name. Gram tended 
to that. Some summers the increase in cat population 
taxed her ingenuity. The pets which I remember most 
vividly were Old Kitty Flannigan, Tippie-Tail, Snip-in- 
Diaz, Little Snip, Crybaby, Rose-of-the-Army, and Old 
Black Joe. 

Sitting on a three-legged milking stool, or dangling my 
legs over one of the great rough-hewn beams of the hay- 
loft, or leaning back against the ridged bark of the lone 
oak, I used to set down, in hurried scrawls, the doings of 
the cats. 

"His eyes blazed," reports one of these entries concern- 
ing a big fight beside the barn door. "His mussels tight- 
ened and he sprang f oreward and chalenged the stranger 
to prove his worthyship." 

"One day/* says another notation, "Crybaby was prowl- 
ing about the woodpile. She aspyed a rabit hopping lea- 
surlearly about nipping off tender blades of gras. She 
flattened out like a linx and cralled toards her quarrery 
whos back was turned. As she sprang, her claws came out 
like rows of needels. Crybaby landed square on the rabits 
back and gave it no chanch to cry out With one nip and 
sweep, its life was cut short. Crybaby picked up the limp 
body, as if it were a kitten, and troted off under the 


One of the barnyard kittens, Little Snip, was even cele- 



brated in verse which I set down on a piece of scratch 
paper one June day when I was seven. The lines ran: 

"Once I had a kitty 
And she was aughful pritty. 
She had the pinkest little nose 
And the finest padded toes. 
She was a reglar rover 
And wandered the country over/' 

During the winter when I was eight, and was attending 
the Woodlawn School in Joliet, one of the teachers asked 
us to write out an imaginary story in class. After chew- 
ing my pen-holder for a while, I launched into "My Life 
Among the Mountains." It began: 

"When I was young I lived in Missouri but when I be- 
came older I went to seek my f orten in the western coun- 
try of Montana. Here I expected to buy a clame and mine. 
But ill-forten had befallen me and now I was a wanderer 
in the mountains. 

"One day, I was climbing up a steap gulley when I no- 
ticed a grait smoke raising in the air. *O, it's * and then 
I slipped into a grait, hurling, mad torent of water/ a 
forest fire!' I thought. Coyots, deer, bare and other ani- 
mals plunged into the water and I saw their skinn 
was singed. Hundreds and hundreds of wild animals 
came snorting, plunging, and ducking into the water 
,up to their nostrals. There was a shower of sparkes and a 
grait leap of flaim and then a roar that was deafning. Hun- 
dreds and hundreds of animals were killed out right and 
many were mortaly woonded. 


"The fire was extinguished when it reached the moun- 
tain stream. I built a log hut and was buissy fore three 
weeks in skining and preparing the meat and skins. I had 
three thousand firs, 1 thousand hides, and so mutch meat 
that I waisted more than six tons of meat and buzards 
and hakks came in millions/' 

At that point, while I was lost in fantasy, the class came 
to an end. I asked if I could finish up the story at home, 
Thereafter, for a week or more, I wrote on and on. Each 
noon I used to run all the way home, over the half-mile 
or so of limestone sidewalks, to gobble down my lunch 
and then plunge into "My Life Among the Mountains." 
Day after day I went back to the teacher for more paper. 
As the story unfolded the adventures became wilder and 
wilder. Without wasted words I jumped from one spine- 
tingling situation to another. I had just escaped from a 
whirlpool, for example, when: 

" *I see the mill!' I shouted glefully and ran at all posibal 
speed. 'Welir I gasped and stoped stock still fore I saw 
two men set fuses to grait cans of nightragrissaleen and 
then run away. I leaped to the fuses and splashed water 
on them. Then I grabed both rascals by the colar and 
marched them up to a shed and locked them in the swine- 
pen. After a long time on a diet of bred and water, they 
confessed that they were the f ellos ho blew up the mines/* 

By the time I was ready to hand in the completed story 
a good-sized bundle of pages had been covered, front and 
back, with my somewhat illegible script. The teacher, 
who had been waiting with considerable curiosity for the 



product of my labors, received the bundle with expres- 
sions of amazement and encouragement. 

Other literary projects of various kinds followed in 
rapid order. For several months I was engrossed in getting 
out a one-sheet publication, with no circulation at all, 
called The Naturelist's Weekly. It contained short items 
on the doings of wild creatures and the events of the sea- 
son out-of-doors. Dans Diary, the imaginary record of a 
trapper in the wild west, kept me out of mischief for 
weeks on end. 

But the main current of my effort ran in the direction 
of Seton-type animal stories. There were: Hop, the Toad; 
Bright-Eyes, the Great Horned Owl; Kadunka, the Bull- 
frog King of the Pond; "Yellow-Back, the Cougar of Puget 
Sound; The Call of the Sunrise ( the biography of a wood- 
chuck), and The Call of the Twilight (the biography of 
a raccoon). Ranger, the Tale of a Snipe ran on for half 
a hundred pages and Roving Spot, the Cat that Went 
Wild was even longer. 

The latter story told of the life and times of a black-and- 
white kitten that became lost and went wild in the sand- 
dunes. It became the leader of a whole band of outlaw 
cats that prowled about the countryside after nightfall 
like a band of wolves. The tale ended in a smashing cli- 
max. A great forest fire, sweeping across the dunes, killed 
most of the band of marauders. Spot, escaping to a clear- 
ing around some farm buildings, became reunited with 
the boy from whom he had become separated years be- 


Another story of that time, one of the few which did 
not concern the dunes or Lone Oak Farm, was entitled 
The Engine Cat. It was based on the life of a pet in the 
Michigan Central roundhouse at Joliet. The animal was 
a special favorite of the workmen, who fed it bits of meat 
from their dinner-pails. It took a particular fancy to one 
of the engineers and used to follow him into the cab of 
his locomotive, curling up in a corner of his seat near the 
boiler of the engine. In this position it would ride 150 
miles on the round-trip to Michigan City. The animal was 
finally killed in an accident. It was run over by the engine, 
which was being backed into the roundhouse. At the 
throttle of the locomotive was the animal's special friend, 
the engineer. I remember that I sobbed bitterly when I 
came to this tragic climax of my story. 

But it was neither Roving Spot nor The Engine Cat 
which I considered my masterpiece at the time. This was 
the story of a bald eagle, called White Tip, the King of 
the Dunes. From my lookout, on the rooftop at Lone Oak, 
I used to lie for a long time after the passing of an eagle 
overhead, wondering about its life and its adventures 
above the lake and the hills of sand. Out of this won- 
dering grew the story of White Tip; Iron Claw, its father; 
and of "Cubby" Martin, the solitary hunter who pursued 
the bird as Sandy MacDougall had followed the Kootenay 

During much of one summer I wrote and rewrote the 
pages, chewing the end of my pencil, scratching out and 
erasing, reading the story aloud to myself behind the 



granary and the barn. The tale began: 

"The sun of a misty morning in June was piercing the 
dence drapries and glistning on the seemingly limmitless 
waist of sand with its mounds and barren tops. Upon one 
of these high dunes that looked out over the deep blue 
misty lake with its rolling white-capped waves and its 
ships, just descernable in the faint light, there stood a 
large pine leaning out over the edge. It was not a bushy 
pine by any means but in the middle there were a fiew 
scrub limbs and above them towered the massive bauld 
head of Iron Claw." 

From that beginning the story followed through the 
nest-life of White Tip, the eaglet; its early adventures in 
the air; its long flight South and its return the following 
spring; its supremacy as the aerial king of the dune- 
country; and, finally, its death at the hands of Cubby 
Martin. This climax came when a great stranger eagle 
appeared above the dunes and challenged White Tip: 

"As the stranger flew toards his pine, White Tip gave 
a screem. At the crie, the stranger stoped and poised in 
the air, his eyes fixed intently upon the Monark. The bark 
of the limb whair White Tip was purched fell rattling to 
the ground, clawed off by the nurvous, restless moving of 
his tallons. 

"Suddenly, the stranger darted strait for the limb. 
White Tip sat still untill the bird was nearly upon him. 
Then he droped under and lay motionless, hiden from 

"I was not the only observer of this battle of the air. 


Cubby Martin had seen it, two. He sat on a bench at the 
door of his cabin, his repeter across his knees, watching 
White Tip with intrest. When he droped under the limb, 
the stranger came cloce. White Tip attacked from the bot- 
tom. Opening his beak, he drove it with inchredable speed 
into the side of his opoinant, at the same time diging in 
with his dedly tallons. They struggled for life or death, 
writhing and snapping, with beady eyes lit with firey 
hatred of each other. 

"A sneeky sperit came into Cubby's mind. 'Now's my 
chanchr he said and putting down his conchience, he ran 
toards the dune. His conchience kept whispering to him 
but he heeded it not. The birds tussled and fought with 
aufull malace; they came cloce to the earth; they bit and 
clawed like tigers. Cubby came creeping cloce. He hesi- 
tated a moment and then lifted his rifle and shot twice in 
rapid succusion. When he looked up, they both were 
quiet. An aufull stillness had settled down. Even the birds 
stoped churping. It seemed to Cubby as if he couldent 
stand it 

"Afterwards, he got the twenty-five dollars he had been 
promissed for White Tip. But he would have given twice 
that to have him alive once more. The storms beat upon 
the pine, year after year, and at last it rotted away and 
only a gray-haired old man was left to tell of the happy 
days when White Tip and Iron Claw ruled among the 

Gramp and Gram were greatly impressed by this eagle 
story. I remember one painful Sunday afternoon when 



they insisted, aided and abetted by my mother, that the 
author appear in person and read the story aloud before 
visiting company. 

They corralled me, washed my face, slicked down my 
hair, put me in a white shirt with a sailor-collar, and led 
me as Gramp said later "sidling along like a hog going 
to war" into the parlor. At last it was all over. I was turned 
free and I whisked into my normal clothes and disap- 
peared until the dust of the departing carriages settled 
over the driveway. 




HOWEVER, my perspiring personal appearance on that 
Sunday afternoon bore important fruit. The visitors, with 
that light-heartedness which characterizes those who 
have no financial obligations in the matter, were unani- 
mous in the opinion that I should have a typewriter in 
order to submit my stories in presentable form to the 

I echoed the idea in the days that followed, Gramp and 
Gram agreed. My mother added her endorsement. We 
all looked at my father. He would have to foot the bill. 
He was also, he hastened to say, in favor of the idea. But 



he didn't see how he could afford to buy a typewriter just 

When I returned home, in September, I began filling 
in each lull in conversation at the dinner-table with sales- 
talks on the vital importance of owning a typewriter. I 
showed my father advertisements in newspapers and 
magazines. I priced the various models in the stores in 
Joliet. There I met my stumbling-block. The model I was 
most interested in cost an enormous sum more than a 
hundred dollars. So, for a long time, the typewriter hung 
like an impossible goal before my eyes. 

One night in November my father came home from 
work with a railroadman's magazine rolled up in his 
empty dinner-pail. He washed himself and sat down at 
the kitchen table. After he had put pork-chop gravy on 
his mashed potatoes and had taken the edge off his ap- 
petite, he stopped with his fork in mid-air. As though he 
had just thought of something, he remarked: 

"Edwin, maybe we can get you a typewriter, after all/' 

My mother looked surprised. This was news to her. Like 
a hungry bumblebee attacking a clump of clover, I plied 
my father with a sudden buzz of questions. He remained 
mysterious until supper was over. Then he opened his 
dinner-pail and pulled out the rolled-up magazine. 

"There is an advertisement in here," he said, "for a type- 
writer almost exactly like the one you want. I can get it 
for fifty-nine dollars." 

My mother and I both reached for the magazine. A 
little hesitantly, my father handed it over. Across the top 


of one of the pulpwood advertising pages, printed in block 
type and capital letters, ran the sentence: 


My mother laughed. Then she compressed her lips and 
gave my father a severe look. He coughed apologetically. 
Shortly thereafter I was sent off to bed to get "a good 
long night's rest/' I heard my parents talking at length 
in the kitchen. The next morning my father announced a 
little triumphantly that I was going to get my typewriter. 

It came, after a lapse of several weeks, together with 
a box of cigars that looked like a small trunk. The type- 
writer was installed on a solid wooden table in an upper 
room. It seemed as heavy as a cart, as big as a desk, and 
as noisy as a threshing-machine. The initial, and most 
noticeable, effect of my possessing a typewriter was an 
increase in the general confusion caused by my erratic 
spelling through the insertion of a generous sprinkling of 
strange new marks such as % 9 f , $, &, #, and * among 
the words of my manuscripts. 

In the optimistic rush of enthusiasm during my sales- 
talks to my father, I had gaily predicted that, if I owned 
a typewriter, I could sell enough stories within a few 
weeks to cover the cost of the machine. As a sad matter 
of record, fifteen years went by before my income from 
writing totaled the half-a-hundred and nine dollars the 
typewriter had cost. 

At the time the machine arrived I was engaged in finish- 
ing up the magnum opus of the period. This was a book of 



twenty-five chapters entitled "Tales of Lone Oak/' It was 
begun in June, 1908, a few weeks after I was nine years 
old, and was completed in December, 1909, when I was 

The starting of the book remains a vivid recollection. 
Gram was ironing in the kitchen. The house was redolent 
with the rich smell of beeswax which she occasionally ap- 
plied to her heated iron. I was hunched over the dining- 
room table scribbling with a pencil on a pad of lined 
writing-paper. At the top of the first page I had placed the 
words: "TAILS OF LONE OAK/' and, under it, the magic 
notation: "Chapter I/' 

By the time Gramp came up from the lower cornfield 
for his mid-morning snack of crackers and cheese and a 
drink of water, I had filled the first page with the open- 
ing scene of the book. Gram had me read it to Gramp. I 
have before me now the page, spelling and all, as I then 
saw it: 

"Chapter I 
Under The Walnut Tree 

"It was a warm, or fairley hot, day in spring. The gras 
was turning green and the buding trees sent a plesant 
odor thru the evning air. The patient lowing of the cattle 
in the lain was distinctley heard above the skufling on the 
roosts of the chicken-coop and the grunting and squeel- 
ing from the pig-pen and the blating of the hungry calves. 
Sparrows churped loudly from the tamerak in frunt of 
the house and from the woods across the road came the 


song of the whip-por-will/' 

From that beginning I advanced in spurts and stops 
page after page and chapter after chapter. The ad- 
ventures I had with Verne Bradfield, in and around Lone 
Oak, during the two summers when he lived near by, 
formed the theme of the book. The latter part of the first 
chapter told of our initial meeting on the day after the 
evening described above: 

"I sat on the drag in the field acros the road, by the 
woods. Maine Fuller, ower hired man, was resting the 
team. A large walnut tree grew beside a big red barn on 
the next farm. Under it stood a boy of about seven years 
of age. He had a big straw-hat on his head and wore over- 
alls with one suspender. His eyes were gray, turning dark 
and sometimes light. When angrey or exsited, his eyes 
would turn light and dark in rapid succession. His bare 
feet were sun-burned and his skin was hard so the rough 
clods did not hurt his feet. 

"Just then he set down the cat he was playing with and 
looked toards us. After a fiew minutes of staring on both 
sides, Maine, who knew him well, called out: 

** 'Say, Verne, here's a little boy about your size. Come 
on, you can play together and have a good time/ 

** *You can go over and play/ he announced to me. 

**I timidly walked to the fence and stood. Verne sized 
me up and said impaishantly: 

** 'Come on, have some fun!' 

"I ammeaditly craled threw the fence and said bash- 



** 'Have you got a very big hay-loft?* 

** *O, not so very big. But a pritty good-sized one. Come 
on and look at it* 

"I followed him threw the barn and up a ladder to the 
loft. Mr. Bradfield, Verne's father, was a carpinter and 
painter by trade but out in the country he got little to do. 
He now had a little farm of nine akers. His chief profit 
came from early and lait straw-berrys and very early 

"The roomy loft was half full of hay and cornstalks. A 
big two-by-four was across the middle and to this we 
climed and cralled out slowley tell we reached the middle 
under which lay a pile of hay. Verne stood up and jumped 
to the pile below. I tried to follow his example but as I 
was about to arise, I fell head first and gave my neck 
sutch a rench that I dident try it again in a hurry. Verne 
laughted and laughted tell I began to too, to see him so 

"I don't know when we would of stoped if a call hadent 
interupted our lafter: 

<c 'Edwin! Edwin!' 

"I ran for the ladder but Verne was two quick. He was 
on the ladder and climing down before I had reached it. 
As I dismounted slowly and werrley, he lafed and pulled 
my foot. I clung tight and my feet dangled in the air. At 
this sight, Verne burst out into a roar of lafter and showed 
me how to regain the step again. I ran from the barn with 
Verne at my heels. I climed over the gait and ran toards 
the house, 


*' 'Got to stay in?' he called after me. 

" 'I don't know. But I think not/ I replied on the ran. 

** If you don't be sure and come back!' he ejaculated. 

" 'Yes/ was my ansure. 

"I reached the house and asked Gram what she wanted. 

" 'O, I only wanted to know whair you were/ she an- 
sured as she turned to enter the house. 

" 'I was over playing with Verne Bradfield. Can I go 
again?' I inquired. 

" 'Yes, but not very long, thoe/ she replied as she shut 
the door. 

"I went back on a dog-trot. 

" *U-h-o-o-o- Ver-ne!' I called. 

" 'Come on!' came from somewhair. 

"I looked around and caut Verne's head bobing in the 
corncrib. I cliined over the gait to the corncrib and threw 
open the door but thair was know sight of Verne. In fear 
he would drop down on me, I ran to an open piece whair 
he could not approach without my knolage. A laugh came 
from the corncrib and I saw him dismounting on the logs 
from above the door. 

" 'You couldent find me!' he burst out. 

"I went up and looked in the corncrib. Then I went in 
and Verne followed me. We both climed up and sat on a 

" 'Come on, this isent any fun!" ejaculated Verne and 

climed down. I followed and we looked at the chickens. 
" 'Come out in the road and play!' I ejaculated, starting 
toards the fence. 



** 1 can't. I gotto stay in the yard all day/ 

" 'O, what will we do?' I inquired, coming back. 

*' c Say Edwin, help me with my work, will you?' he in- 

" 'Allright, what you got to do?' 

" *O, just shut up the chickens and a fiew things/ he an- 
sured as he turned toards the chicken coop. I followed 
and helped chase, capture and settle the hens. 

" 'Come on and feed Sam now/ he announced. 

" 'Who is Sam?' I inquired in fear it was a pursin. 

" *O, ower horse, old Sam/ he replyed as he picked up 
a bushel basket and started toards the barn. I followed 

" 'O, I thought it was somebody!' 

"At this, he gave a harty laugh. Sam paishantly neighed. 

** 'Here Sam/ called Verne cherrly as he pitched a fork 
full of hay into the mainger. 

" 'You're a nice old Horse, aint you Sam?' he said stroak- 
ing Sam's nose and neck. 

" 'Say, I think you're a nice boy/ he said, coming closer. 
Tm glad we met!' he added. 

** 'So am I!' I agreed. 

" 'We'll just play all the time/ ansured Verne. Til show 
you all this country if you stay all summer/ 

" I'll have to go home pritty soon/ I said. 'Gram said I 
couldent stay very long/ 

* 'You got a gun?' Verne asked. 

*'*Know, have you?' 

" 'Know. But I want one!' he excleamed. 


" *Q, I've gotto go, good-buy!' I called out. 

** 'Come back in the morning !' he called after me. 

" 'Sure I will!' was my ansuring call as I ran toards the 

" "This has been a happy day/ 1 said to Grandma as she 
tucked me in my little bed." 

Thus ended Chapter I. 

The other chapters carrying such varied headings as: 
The First Quarrel, Water and Doit, An Exighting Hunt, 
A Trip After Cows, By the Ditch-Side, Inocent Theift, 
Doves in the Hayloft, Kittens in the Mainger, Woodcraft, 
Threw the Fence, and A Trip to the Grist-Mill were 
written over a period of eighteen months. The pages of 
the scratchpads, on which the words were put down in 
pencil, were gathered together as each chapter was com- 
pleted and put away in a pasteboard box. The chapters 
were held together by means of common pins or safety 
pins or hairpins, which were thrust through the paper and 
twisted together. The pins are rusted and the paper is 
brittle and yellow now. But the written words are still 
legible and they still tell the story of singularly blithe and 
carefree days. 

None of the boys that I knew, either at Furnessville or 
at Joliet, had any interest in or inclination toward writing. 
No one in the whole countryside around Lone Oak had 
ever sold a single word for publication. The nearest ap- 
proach was Gram who had seen some of her articles, con- 
tributed free, printed in The Rural New Yorker. It was my 
great good-fortune to spend the summers of these early 



years in the farmhouse where, more than anywhere else 
in that part of northern Indiana, my attempts at writing 
would be encouraged and appreciated. 

Understanding and encouragement are sunshine and 
water to that frail plant, early ambition. They help the 
buried seed, the inner compulsion, get its foothold. Of 
course neither sunshine nor shower are effective without 
the seed. In the end, Robert Browning's Andrea del Sarto 
is right: "Incentives come from the soul's self, the rest 
avail not/' "When," says Cyrano de Bergerac in Rostand's 
play, "I have made a line that sings ... I pay myself a 
hundred times." It is this strange satisfaction, this joy of 
molding words into sentences which provides one of the 
most profound incentives to writing. 

This satisfaction is an individual and almost lonely 
pleasure. It is difficult to explain and hard for others to 
understand. It reminds me, sometimes, of the joy a man I 
once interviewed for a magazine article found in whittling 
out little ducks. The year around, year in and year out, he 
carved from pieces of white pine miniature waterfowl 
ducks in flight, ducks alighting, ducks feeding, ducks 
taking wing. It was his chief delight in life. As soon as 
he had a piece of white pine in one hand and a jackknif e 
in the other, he was intensely happy. 

"People," he told me as I was leaving him, "sometimes 
think I'm crazy. But they have no idea of the fun I'm 




IN THE shade of the old oak tree, I scribbled down figures 
on the wooden top of a strawberry crate. A Sears, Roebuck 
catalogue lay in the grass beside me. I was busy figuring 
up exactly how many strawberries I would have to pick 
in order to obtain an object of my heart's desire. 

Oftentimes, as I walked about the fields of Lone Oak or 
lay in the meadow-grass looking up at the drifting clouds 
or stole noiselessly along the mossy trails of the north 
woods, I had wished that I could record pictures of all 
the things I saw. Now I had decided to make this wish 
come true. 



A few years before, when I was about eight years old, 
an uncle of mine had given me an oddity camera which 
had been produced at the time of the World's Columbian 
Exposition at Chicago, in 1893. It was the size and shape 
of a watch and had been designed to make miniature 
pictures, half as big as a postage stamp. Although no film 
was made to fit the camera, and its mechanism was then 
out of order, I used to carry it about with me, snapping 
imaginary pictures of birds' nests and wind-blown trees 
and long V's of autumn geese. 

This summer, however, my heart was set on a real 

In the Sears, Roebuck catalogue I found listed a com- 
plete outfit a box camera, a roll of film, a developing kit 
and printing material all for $3.75. At that time of year 
the quickest source of money was the strawberry patch. 
Gramp paid me a cent and a half a quart for picking the 
berries. My figures on the white wood of the crate-top 
revealed that I would have to pick 250 quarts to obtain the 
needed sum. 

The berries ran about eighty to the quart. That made 
a grand total of 20,000 strawberries which stood between 
me and the realization of my desire. I could visualize 
myself stooping over and picking off a berry and putting 
it in a box once, twice, three times, ten times, a hundred 
times, a thousand times, ten thousand times, twenty thou- 
sand times! 

Nevertheless, I set to work. I asked Gramp to keep all 
my tally slips until I had the whole 250 quarts. Each 


evening I would ask him how the score stood. Progress 
was always disappointing; but the total mounted day by 
day. Finally the 250 quarts were picked and the money 
was mine. I made out the order carefully and printed 
the address on an envelope. Gramp came by while I was 
thus engaged. He volunteered: 

"Better write large. Th' man may be deaf." 

As soon as the mailman had picked up the letter the 
next morning, I began looking for the coming of the 
camera. Each succeeding morning, around nine o'clock, I 
would clamber up the hemlock tree in front of the farm- 
house and peer eastward down the road to catch the first 
glimpse of the little white, covered-in cart in which the 
rural-delivery mailman brought letters and parcels from 
Michigan City. Day after day I hastily slid down again, 
my hands and bare feet black with the pitch of the 
resinous trunk, and raced to the mailbox as the cart pulled 
up in front of Lone Oak. And each day, for more than a 
week, disappointment awaited me. 

After the top of the white cart had disappeared over 
Gunder's Hill I used to wander about the farm and along 
the marsh-paths and through the north woods spotting 
birds' nests and rabbit forms and woodchuck holes. As I 
walked I made lists of the innumerable pictures I would 
take as soon as the box camera came. On the ninth day it 

I opened the package in haste. Half a dozen times I 
read the instructions. I was appalled at the complexity 
of even this simple mechanism. In handling it I seemed, 



as Gramp would say, "as awkward as a cow on skates." 
Fully half an hour had passed before I felt sufficient con- 
fidence to load in the roll of film. When the back was 
snapped shut and the film wound to "Number I/' I set 
forth a camera-hunter in reality. 

Beside the ditch bordering the cherry orchard a young 
cottontail had made its form. I had been training it on 
previous days for just this moment. Time after time I 
had approached slowly and silently until I was no more 
than four or five feet away. Then I had lifted an imaginary 
camera and had clicked an imaginary shutter. The rabbit 
was used to my presence. It would sit motionless for min- 
utes at a time, watching me with round, unblinking eyes, 
its veined ears lying flat along its back. 

Camera in hand, I now moved cautiously toward the 
cottontail. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. The sun 
was shining over my shoulder, just as the directions sug- 
gested. I squinted into the little rectangular window of 
the black box. The rabbit, sensing that something unusual 
was going on, lifted its ears. I pushed down the shutter- 
lever. At the metallic click, the cottontail was off, bolting 
away through the grass. But on my film, I felt sure, I had 
recorded a picture which would remain for years after 
the animal, itself, was no more. 

Long before noon I had used my last film on a view 
of the house and the lone oak tree behind it. After dinner 
I picked strawberries with a fresh burst of enthusiasm. I 
realized that I would need many, many rolls of film to 
capture all the innumerable pictures I wanted to take. 


I could hardly wait, that evening, for darkness to come. 
I read the instructions for developing the film over and 
over again. As soon as the supper dishes were washed, I 
laid my chemicals and trays out on the kitchen table and 
began hanging blankets over the windows. By half past 
eight it seemed dark enough to engage in the mysterious 
rite of photographic development. 

First I mixed up my little packet of hypo and stirred 
into water the white powder from the tube of MQ de- 
veloper. Then I lit a stub of a candle which fitted inside 
the red-cloth darkroom lantern. The dull reddish glow it 
emitted left me in almost complete darkness. I fumbled 
around for the roll of film, stripped off the paper, and 
began pumping the slippery strip up and down through 
the tray of developer. Eventually, against the dull glow 
of the red lantern, I was able to see thrilling evidences of 
pictures lighter and darker patches on the film. 

Although the strip, when finally dry, proved to be 
much over-developed and although black, light-struck 
patches marred the edges, the center section held pictures 
which we all could recognize. The rabbit, its ears erect 
and its round eyes alert, was the prize picture of the roll. 
It was the first of many thousand nature pictures which 
have provided interest and excitement during succeeding 

My photographic fever continued all summer. I took 
under-exposed pictures in the depths of the north woods 
and over-exposed pictures in the glare of the sand-dunes. 
I snapped close-ups of moving animals and found only a 



blurred image on my film, and I photographed distant 
butterflies and saw them recorded no larger than pin- 
heads on the resulting negatives. I learned by making 

There were so many pictures my box camera couldn't 
take, so many things too small to photograph or too fast 
to stop with a slow shutter speed, that disappointments 
mounted. However, even though only a small proportion 
of the hundreds of pictures I had seen vividly in my 
dreams ever materialized on film, the thrill of stalking 
wild creatures camera in hand and of seeing a long- 
desired picture take form before my eyes in the darkroom, 
left a lasting impression. 

In later years other and better cameras followed this 
initial purchase. Each opened up new opportunities for 
close-ups or action shots. Each accompanied me on mem- 
orable trips afield, on expeditions that carried me tens of 
thousands of miles and resulted in a harvest of enjoyment 
as well as pictures. It was the black box of Lone Oak days 
the camera that 20,000 strawberries purchased that 
opened the door to all this later pleasure. 




FOR a great tree death comes as a gradual transformation, 
Its vitality ebbs slowly. Even when life has abandoned it 
entirely it remains a majestic thing. On some hilltop a 
dead tree may dominate the landscape for miles around. 
Alone among living things it retains its character and 
dignity after death. Plants wither; animals disintegrate. 
But a dead tree may be as arresting, as filled with per- 
sonality, in death as it is in life. Even in its final moments, 
when the massive trunlc lies prone and it has moldered into 
a ridge covered with mosses and fungi, it arrives at a 
fitting and a noble end. It enriches and refreshes the earth. 



And later, as part of other green and growing things, it 
rises again. 

The death of the great white oak which gave our In- 
diana homestead its name and which played such an 
important part in our daily lives was so gentle a transition 
that we never knew just when it ceased to be a living 

It had stood there, toward the sunset from the farm- 
house, rooted in that same spot for 200 years or more. How 
many generations of red squirrels had rattled up and down 
its gray-black bark! How many generations of robins had 
sung from its upper branches! How many humans, from 
how many lands, had paused beneath its shade! 

The passing of this venerable giant made a profound 
impression upon my young mind. Just what caused its 
death was then a mystery. Looking back, I believe the 
deep drainage ditches, which had been cut through the 
dune-country marshes a few years before, had lowered the 
water-table just sufficiently to affect the roots of the old 
oak. Millions of delicate root-tips were injured. As they 
began to wither, the whole vast underground system of 
nourishment broke down and the tree was no longer able 
to send sap to the upper branches. 

Like a river flowing into a desert, the life stream of the 
tree dwindled and disappeared before it reached the top- 
most twigs. They died first. The leaf at the tip of each twig, 
the last to unfold, was the first to wither and fall. Then, 
little by little, the twig itself became dead and dry. This 
process of dissolution, in the manner of a movie run back- 


ward, reversed the development of growth. Just as, cell 
by cell, the twig had grown outward toward the tip, so 
now death spread, cell by cell, backward from the tip. 

Sadly we watched the blight work from twig to branch, 
from smaller branch to larger branch, until the whole top 
of the tree was dead and bare. For years those dry, bark- 
less upper branches remained intact. Their wood became 
gray and polished by the winds. When thunderstorms 
rolled over the farm from the northwest the dead branches 
shone like silver against the black and swollen sky. Robins 
and veeries sang from these lofty perches, gilded by the 
sunset long after the purple of advancing dusk filled the 
spaces below. 

Then, one by one, tiheir resiliency gone, the topmost 
limbs crashed to earth, carried away by the fury of storm- 
winds. In fragments and patches, bark from the upper 
trunk littered the ground below. The protecting skin of 
the tree was broken. In through the gaps poured a host of 
microscopic enemies, the organisms of decay. 

Ghostly white fungus penetrated into the sap-wood. It 
worked its way downward along the unused tubes, those 
vertical channels through which had flowed the life-blood 
of the oak. The continued flow of this sap might have kept 
out the fungus. But sap rises only to branches clothed with 
leaves. As each limb became blighted and leafless, the sap- 
level dropped to the next living branch below. And close 
on the heels of this descending fluid followed tihe fungus. 
From branch to branch, its silent, deadly descent con- 



Soft and flabby, so unsubstantial it can be crushed with- 
out apparent pressure between a thumb and forefinger, 
this pale fungus is yet able to penetrate through the hard- 
est of woods. This amazing and paradoxical feat is ac- 
complished by means of digestive enzymes which the 
fungus secretes and which dissolve the wood as strong 
acids might do. These fungus-enzymes, science has 
learned, are virtually the same as those produced by the 
single-celled protozoa which live in the bodies of the 
termites and enable those insects to digest the cellulose in 

Advancing in the form of thin white threads, which 
branch again and again, the fungus works its way from 
side to side as well as downward through the trunk of a 
dying tree. Beyond the reach of our eyes the fungus kept 
spreading within the body of the old oak, branching into 
a kind of vast, interlacing root-system of its own, pale 
and ghostly. 

Behind the fungus, along the dead upper trunk, yellow- 
hammers drummed on the dry wood. I saw them, with 
their chisel-bills, hewing out nesting holes which, in turn, 
admitted new organisms of decay. In effect, the dissolu- 
tion of a great tree is like the slow turning of an immense 
wheel of life. Each stage of its decline and decay brings 
a whole new, interdependent population of dwellers and 
their parasites. 

Even while the lower branches of the oak were still 
green, insect wreckers were already at work above them. 
First to arrive were the bark beetles. In the earliest stages 


their fare was the tender inner layer of the bark, the living 
bond between the trunk and its covering. As death spread 
downward in the oak, as freezing and storms loosened the 
bark, the beetles descended, foot by foot. Some of them 
left behind elaborate patterns, branching mazes of tun- 
nels that took on the appearance of fantastic "thousand- 
leggers" engraved on wood. 

During the winter when I was twelve years old a gale 
of abnormal force swept the Great Lakes region. Gusts 
reached almost hurricane proportions. Weakened by the 
work of the fungus, bacteria, woodpeckers, and beetles, 
the whole top of the tree snapped off some seventy feet 
from the ground. After that the progress of its dissolution 
was rapid. 

Finally the last of the lower leaves disappeared. The 
green badge of life returned no more. On summer days the 
sound of the wind sweeping through the old oak had a 
winter shrillness. No more was there the rustling of a 
multitude of leaves above our hammock; no more was 
there the "plump!" of falling acorns. Leaves and acorns > 
life and progress, were at an end. 

In the days that followed, as the bark loosened to the 
base, the wheel of life, which had its hub in the now-dead 
oak, grew larger. 

I saw carpenter ants hurrying this way and that over 
the lower tree-trunk. Ichneumon flies, trailing deadly, 
drill-like ovipositors, hovered above the bark in search 
of buried larvae on which to lay their eggs. Carpenter 
bees, their black abdomens glistening like patent leather, 



bit their way into the dry wood of the dead branches. 
Click beetles and sow-bugs and small spiders found 
security beneath fragments of the loosened bark. And 
around the base of the tree swift-legged carabid beetles 
hunted their insect prey under cover of darkness. 

Yellowish brown, the wood-flour of the powder-post 
beetles began to sift about the foot of the oak. It, in turn, 
attracted the larvae of the Darkling beetles. Thus., link by 
link, the chain of life expanded. To the expert eye the 
condition of the wood, the bark, the ground about the base 
of the oak all told of the action of the inter-related forms 
of life attracted by the death and decay of a tree. 

But below all this activity, beyond the power of hu- 
man sight to detect, other changes were taking place. The 
underground root system, comprising almost as much 
wood as was visible in the tree rising above-ground, was 
also altering. 

Fungus, entering the damaged root-tips or working 
downward from the infected trunk, followed the sap chan- 
nels and hastened decay. The great main roots, spreading 
out as far as the widest branches of the tree itself, altered 
rapidly* Their fibers grew brittle; their old pliancy dis- 
appeared; their bark split and loosened. The breakdown 
of the upper tree found its counterpart, within the dark- 
ness of the earth, in the dissolution of the lower roots. 

I remember well the day the great oak came down. I 
was fourteen at the time. Gramp had measured distances 
and planned his cutting operations in advance. He 
chopped away for fully half an hour before he had a V- 


shaped bite cut exactly in position to bring the trunk 
crashing in the place desired. Hours filled with the whine 
of the cross-cut saw followed. 

Then came the great moment. A few last, quick strokes, 
A slow, deliberate swaying. The crack of parting fibers. 
Then a long "swo-o-sh!" that rose in pitch as the towering 
trunk arced downward at increasing speed. There fol- 
lowed a vast tumult of crashing, crackling sound; the 
dance of splintered branches; a haze of dead, swirling 
grass. Then a slow settling of small objects and silence. 
All was over. Lone oak was gone. 

Gram, I remember, brushed away what she remarked 
was dust in her eyes with a corner of her apron and went 
inside. She had known and loved that one great tree since 
she had come to the farm as a bride of sixteen. She had 
seen it under alFconditions and through eyes colored 
by many moods. Her children had grown up under its 
shadow and I, a grandchild, had known its shade. Its 
passing was like the passing of an old, old friend. For all 
of us there seemed an empty space in our sky in the days 
that followed. 

Gramp and I set to work, attacking the fallen giant. 
Great piles of cordwood, mounds of broken branches for 
kindling, grew around the prostrate trunk as the weeks 
went by. Eventually only the huge, circular table of the 
low stump remained reddish brown and slowly dis- 
solving into dust. 

For two winters wood from the old oak fed the kitchen 
range and the dining-room stove. It had a clean, well- 



seasoned smell. And it burned with a clear and leaping 
flame, continuing unlike the quickly consumed poplar 
and elm for an admirable length of time. Like the old 
tree itself, the fibers of these sticks had character and 
endurance to the very end. 




SNOW covered the stump of the old oak tree. Drifts 
curved across the woodyard, half encircled the spring* 
They lay deep along the northern fringe of die woods and 
the distant dunes were glistening white instead of shining 
gold. In an unbroken blanket the snow stretched across 
the lower forty where The Dragonette had stood. It 
clogged the ditches; turned the marsh into a wide, level 
plain of whiteness; ran up one side of the cornshocks 
which, like men with their hands in their pockets, stood 
hunched along the horizon. 

It was the day before Christmas and to my young eyes 



the whole dune country seemed like an immense cake 
covered with a thick layer of frosting. 

Under the drifting plume of woodsmoke rising from the 
Lone Oak chimney great activity was in progress. All the 
daughters of the family were home and everybody seemed 
cooking at once. There was the clatter of crockery and 
the whir of egg-beaters and the crackling and snapping of 
a roaring kitchen fire. Dates were being pitted, stuffed 
with nuts, and rolled in confectioner's sugar. Walnut 
fudge and heavenly-hash candy cooled on plates in the 
pantry. Friedcakes were bobbing about and turning a 
golden brown in a kettle of bubbling lard. And, at the 
back of the range, popcorn grown in Cramp's own fields 
volleyed against the tin lid of an iron skillet. 

Popcorn was an important item on the list of materials 
used at Christmastime. Strung on white cotton thread, 
with the aid of a needle, it provided decorations for the 
tree. Buttered and salted, it was the chief "nibbling" 
food which kept Cramp and me alive from meal to meal 
during the Yuletide excitement. With sorghum molasses, 
it was molded into popcorn balls. And, as "Popcorn 
Mound,'" it appeared with white icing over it and was cut 
like a cake with a very sharp knife. 

I sat in one corner of the kitchen, near the windows, 
and cracked nuts on a flatiron. The day before Cramp and 
I had plowed through the drifts to the north woods and 
after much deliberation had selected a well-formed spruce 
as our Christmas tree. It was between seven and eight 
feet high. I had dragged it home through the snow, chat- 


tering incessantly in my excitement 

I snickered now when I recalled what Gramp had said. 
As soon as he could get a word in edgewise, he had ob- 
served: "Edwin, ef y don't keep yer mouth shut, yll 
freeze yer tongue an' give yer teeth a sleigh-ride!" 

Stamping our feet and shaking the snow from the green 
boughs of the spruce, we had brought the tree indoors 
and had established it in a corner of the dining room. It 
stood there now, completely decorated with strings of 
popcorn and cranberries, polished apples and candy fish. 
In that same spot had stood every Christmas tree that I 
recalled, from the earliest I remembered to this my last 
at Lone Oak. 

Dinnertime came and went. Gramp and I were fed 
hastily on bean soup and shooed out of the kitchen. We 
began playing checkers on the dining-room table. From 
time to time I would leave the game, stick my head out in 
the kitchen, and inquire: 

"Is there anything I can do to help?** 

Usually the answer was: "No/* 

But when it was affirmative I jumped to be of assistance. 

"Y* certainly are polite ez a basket o* chips today!" 
Gramp remarked. 

Because the house warmed up slowly on winter morn- 
ings, we always distributed the presents at Lone Oak on 
Christmas Eve. Already they lay piled in their holiday 
wrappings under the tree in the corner. I studied them 
closely at intervals. At the back of the pile was a large, 
irregular object wrapped in red and green paper. I knew 



what that was. It was a new clothes-wringer for Gram 
from my father and mother. My own presents were, in 
the main, impenetrable mysteries. There was one excep- 
tion. This was a small, heavy box. I was sure it contained 
a jackknife. Every Christmas somebody gave me a new 
jackknif e, which, invariably, I lost before the next Christ- 
mas arrived. 

The hours of the afternoon dragged by and Cramp and 
1 began to think of chores. As I gathered the eggs and 
carried in armloads of stove-wood, my shoes squeaked 
on the dry snow and my breath billowed out in white 
clouds of vapor. Cornstalks, stripped of their leaves, lit- 
tered the trampled snow of the barnyard. The stxawstack, 
where I forked out fresh bedding for the horses, had taken 
on the appearance of a giant, thick-stemmed mushroom 
from the rubbing of the cattle around its base. Snow, piled 
deeply on its top, enhanced the resemblance. At the corn- 
crib I picked out an extra ration of the largest yellow ears. 
These I distributed as a Christmas present to Deck, Colty, 
and Dolly in the warm and pungent interior of their stable. 
They, too, got their presents on Christmas Eve. 

By the time Cramp and I stamped into the kitchen 
again, supper was waiting on the dining-room table. I 
hurried through it, hardly tasting what I ate until I 
reached the dessert a dish of sweet and juicy black- 
berries, the product of our own labors the summer before. 
With all the girls helping, the dishes were washed, wiped, 
and whisked into the cupboard in an amazingly short 
space of time. I brought a jug of sweet cider and a pan of 


Northern Spy apples from the cellar. They took their place 
beside the plates of candy and the bowls of popcorn on the 
dining-room table. We were all ready for the main ex- 
citement of the day: the opening of the presents. 

From the time I was six or seven we had followed the 
same time-honored procedure. Each grown person sat in 
a different part of the room while I delivered the presents, 
one at a time in rotation. After each round I opened a 
present of my own. 

The first box I unwrapped contained a dud a necktie. 
Next came a surprise, a pocket instrument called a "Tele- 
meter." According to the instructions, if I looked through 
it at a distant object, an indicator would tell me how far 
away the object was. I became so engrossed in this gadget 
that I forgot there were other presents still to be delivered 
until I heard Gramp saying: 

"I guess Santa Glaus hez had a lapse o' memory/* 

Two other presents I received that night stand out in 
my mind. One was a set of wood-carving tools. Each tool 
had a polished walnut handle and they all were contained 
in a sturdy box with a sliding top. The second present was 
the real prize of the evening. It was a pocket-guide to the 
birds. The cover carried the picture of a red-headed wood- 
pecker and within were paintings of more than 190 birds, 
with the range, habits, and other data given about each. 

The final present of all after little mounds of string 
and discarded wrapping paper had grown in size beside 
each chair was a large pasteboard box. It was covered 
with white tissue-paper and on top was a poinsettia cut 



from red paper. It carried the printed inscription: 


Within the box was an assortment of home-made can- 
dies, preserved fruits, and little tissue-paper bundles of 
nut-meats. In the course of its preparation, I had sampled 
each of the sweetmeats and so now went, like a bee to a 
flower, to my preferences. 

When this present "to all" had made its rounds, we each 
examined the presents the others had received. The hand- 
kerchiefs, doilies, aprons, hand-embroidered towels, and 
hand-painted china all left me lukewarm. The books, 
which Gram would read aloud in the evenings to come, 
stirred my interest. But it was an elaborate "pyrography" 
set which my aunt Winnifred had received which ab- 
sorbed me to the exclusion of everything else. 

This outfit was used for burning designs into wood. A 
glass container filled with wood-alcohol supplied fuel. A 
rubber bulb pumped up air-pressure and fed the alcohol 
to a metal point to keep it red-hot. In the days that fol- 
lowed we all tried our hand at burning floral and bird 
designs in the tops of boxes and on the flat surfaces of 
smooth boards. The smell of alcohol and wood-smoke 
filled the house for hours on end. This outfit, together with 
my carving set which left evidences of its use in the form 
of chips and shavings on the kitchen floor provided the 
most amusement for indoor hours during succeeding days. 

By a little after nine o'clock, the popcorn was gone, the 
Northern Spy apples had been reduced to cores, mining 
operations had left gaps and gullies in the box of candy, 


and the cider jug was empty. Coming events had cast no 
shadow over our Christmas fun. 

Christmas Day, with its bountiful dinner, lay just ahead, 
and beyond that days of leisure, of coasting, of skating on 
the wide marsh ditch, of seeing the sights of the winter 
fields. More than a week of freedom still remained. But 
as I placed my bird book and my carving tools on the back 
of the kitchen table and prepared to climb the stairs to 
bed, there came a sudden twinge of sadness, a rebound 
from the elation of the day. The peak of the year was 
past, Christmas Eve was over. 




LONE OAK days came to their end almost at the same 
time that the golden age of boyhood drew to a close. 

I was Bearing my sixteenth year and the world had 
turned serious. I was studying hard in high school, saving 
iny money, even combing my hair. Determined some day 
to be a writer, I was making earnest, if somewhat in- 
effective, efforts to improve my spelling. I had begun to 
budget my time and to pin little schedules for the day on 
the walls of my room. 

In the autumn of that year I had been greatly impressed 
by the story of King Alfred the Great and his colored 


candles. As I heard the tale, King Alfred had organized 
his day by burning candles formed of sections of colored 
tallow. He would devote himself to one study as long as 
the candle burned through blue tallow, to another task 
when the tallow was red, to another when it was green, 
and so on. I set out to follow suit. At first I tried to put 
colored bands around a wax candle with watercolors. 
Then I jumped ahead a thousand years and relied on my 
Ingersoll dollar-watch. Sloth and Indolence and Care- 
less Habits of the Past were ranged against me and I often 
despaired of progress. 

I remember I once lugged home from the ivy-covered, 
gray-limestone building of the Joliet Public Library a 
huge volume on the development of will power. Its pages 
depressed me greatly. They led me to the conclusion that 
I had been born without any will power at all. 

At the ends of the various sections of this book there 
were suggested exercises for strengthening the will. The 
one which I remember most clearly related to the culti- 
vation of persistence. First, you snarled up a ball of yarn 
and then, by persistent effort, you straightened out the 
tangle. Choosing an afternoon when I was alone in the 
house, I set about testing my perseverance. I was unable 
to find a ball of yarn, so I used a spool of silk. Con- 
scientiously I snarled up the fine thread until it looked like 
a mouse's nest. Then I gave my persistence a workout 
and what a workout! 

I soon found that I needed more room than the desk- 
top and stretched out on the dining-room carpet. The silk 



I had chosen was dark blue. The carpet had light and dark 
areas in its pattern. As I pulled out the thread-ends, the 
silk "disappeared" wherever it lay on the darker portions 
of the pattern and I would reach for it repeatedly before 
I could pick it up. Even without this handicap my troubles 
would have been sufficient. 

I had expected to have the thread back on the spool 
before my mother came home from shopping. Instead I 
was snarled in silk like the proverbial kitten when she 
arrived. I was in the same condition when my father 
reached home from work. The gas-lights went on and I 
pulled out a thousand and one wrong loops and threads 
and the snarl remained. 

During supper I was struck by a sudden revelation. It 
didn't matter, except to my mother who was losing a spool 
of silk, whether I ever unraveled the snarl or not. I had 
kept at it for hours and that fact alone proved I had per- 
sistence. I went gaily to bed that night, feeling that my 
time had not been wasted. 

One other indication of the serious trend of the times 
was the fact that calisthenics had come into their own. I 
walked with my shoulders thrown back and my chest out. 
I ate raw carrots. I drank a glass of hot water before 
breakfast. Also I began looking at myself in the mirror 
from time to time and was amazed, as almost invariably I 
have been since, at the difference between the way I 
looked on the outside and the way I felt on the inside. 

When summer came, I told myself, there would be no 
more loafing at Lone Oak. I would work conscientiously. 


I would save the money earned from strawberry picking, 
from fallen apples, from Early Rose potatoes. I would act 
the part of a man. Childhood was over, a thing of the past. 

It was indeed. Even while such thoughts were run- 
ning through my mind, as I lay in bed on a January night, 
Gramp was piling wood into the great dining-room stove 
at Lone Oak, banking the roaring fire before he went to 
bed. So bitter was the cold outside that he left the draft 
partially on for the night. During the hours of darkness, 
the wind rose in violence. The metal of the stove grew 
red and sparks streamed upward through the pipe. 

At three o'clock in the morning Gram awoke coughing. 
The ground-floor bedroom was thick with drifting wood- 
smoke. She could hear the rush of flames and the crackle of 
burning wood. Gramp woke up and jumped from bed. 
He swung open the kitchen door. The eastern end of the 
house was filled with sheets of red and yellow flame. 

A moment later Gramp was forcing up one of the bed- 
room windows and pushing back the heavy green shut- 
ters outside. Pulling on their shoes and throwing quilts 
around their shoulders, .they stepped out into the below- 
zero wind and the foot-deep snow. 

Under his arm Gramp had a black walnut box. For more 
than forty years that wooden box had rested each night 
on the floor under the head of his bed. It contained all 
the papers of value he owned the deed to the farm, the 
insurance policies, his Civil War papers, his ready cash. A 
hundred times he had said: 

"Ef th* house ever catches fire, the first thing 111 grab 



will be that box!" 

They had fled just in time. Already streamers of fire 
were running across the western roof. With the knife- 
edged wind cutting to the marrow of their bones, they 
waded through drifts, tinted red by the soaring flames, to 
the house of their nearest neighbor. 

There, warmed by the stove and revived by steaming 
coffee, they watched the home they had known so long 
settle into a mass of glowing embers. The house had fol- 
lowed the oak. When the sun rose there seemed an empty 
place on the horizon, just as there had seemed an empty 
space in the sky when the old tree came down. 

As soon as we heard of the fire, I took the train for 
Furnessville to bring Gramp and Gram to Joliet. They 
were well past seventy; yet they showed no ill-effects 
from their tramp through wind and snow. 

"I remember once saying," Gram recalled, "that I 
couldn't see why people got excited in a fire. I was sure 
I would keep calm. But it came so suddenly that I don't 
know whether I stayed cool or not." 

"Wai, yer feet stayed cool/' Gramp told her. "They were 

. T * f* 

m tn snow! 

We poked among the ruins. At one place we found the 
silverware, melted into a gray blob of metal. At another 
place we discovered blackened fragments of the steel 
dictionary-stand in the parlor. But the dictionary, with its 
pictures of butterflies, birds, and airplanes, was gone 
forever as were so many of the other old, familiar ob- 
jects. Cramp's best hat had perished on the corner of a 


picture-frame and the lamp, beside which Gram had read 
on so many summer evenings, had changed into a form- 
less lump of melted glass. 

For a while the old folks talked of rebuilding on the 
brick foundation of the homestead. Then they had a 
chance to sell the farm as it stood. They took it. Afterward 
Gramp and Gram journeyed 200 miles and retired to well- 
earned leisure, spending most of the rest of their lives in 
happy years at the home of their daughter, Elizabeth, in 
Richmond, Ind. There, during the four years I was at- 
tending Earlham College, we were united once more. 

An old Hawaiian proverb says that the earth is a mother 
that never dies. So it is that Lone Oak Farm has gone on 
the same, even though "time and the world are ever in 
flight." Its face has altered with the years. But the old 
fields are there. The spring and the mossy north woods and 
the arid Field of the Serpents are as they were. And the 
far dunes still lift their gold to the summer sun beyond the 

Even today, if you look south from a speeding Michigan 
Central train, a mile or so east of the old station of Fur- 
nessville, you can see, for a fleeting instant, the dark and 
slender spire of a cedar tree. It stands rooted, like a living 
memorial shaft, beside the spot where once the Lone Oak 
gate stood ready to swing open at my touch. 


Forty Years After 



MORE than forty years have now passed since the great 
oak came crashing down. Forty winters have come and 
gone since the cold night when the farmhouse burned. 
As I write these words, Cramp's gold watch, the source 
of so many loans in his lean years, lies on my desk beside 
me. I lift it. It is solid, weighing more than a quarter of 
a pound. I hold it cupped in my hand. It, too, was at 
Lone Oak. It, too, shared all those early years that return 
with such vividness to my mind. 

"If it rains," Gramp used to say when the summer sky 
would darken, "we'll do what they do in Spain/* 



"What's that?" I would ask. 

"Let it rain!" 

Sometimes on mornings when we would return from 
dew-wet meadows with milkpails filled with mushrooms, 
we all would set to work peeling off the tough outer skins. 
This was unexciting work for Gramp. With his huge jack- 
knife he would peel off half the mushroom with the skin. 
To Gram's remonstrances he would reply: 

"I'm jest too strong f er this work." 

Long before I arrived on the scene, a custom in the 
dune country, my mother once recalled, was telling for- 
tunes by looking into one of the chapters of the Book of 
Proverbs and choosing the verse number that corre- 
sponded to the day of birth. Everyone at Lone Oak re- 
membered how Cramp's verse ended: 

"Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with 
food convenient for me." 

In the matter of food he was always a pioneer. He 
tried new dishes. He planted new crops. He was the 
only farmer I ever heard of who tried to raise peanuts in 
the sand dunes. Several rows at the edge of the garden 
produced a scanty crop of rather small nuts. Gram 
roasted them on die range. Gramp rationed them out 
with a special flourish. 

There was a year when he decided he could get maple 
syrup from the big maple tree that grew north of the hay- 
field where Dolly achieved a kind of immortality by be- 
ing the one-horsepower motor of The Dragonette. He 
brought home nearly a pailful of sap and boiled it on 


the back of the kitchen range. From time to time he 
would cool and sip a few drops of the liquid. Each time 
he would hastily add a little more brown sugar. The 
boiling and the sugar-adding went on hour after hour. In 
the end he proudly exhibited a teacupful or so of syrup 
for his pancakes. 

"This is mighty sweet maple syrup/' he reported com- 
placently the next morning. 

"It would be even sweeter/' Gram reminded him, "if 
you'd put in more sugar/' 

Whenever he was away from home, Gramp kept his 
eyes peeled for new foods. Once when he was a small 
boy eating with relatives, he remembered replying to 
an invitation to help himself to the potatoes: 

"No thank y. I don't want any potatoes. We hev po- 
tatoes at home/' 

At any gathering where a plate of sandwiches went 
around for a second or third time or, for that matter, 
a fourth or fifth time Gramp was wont to remark: 

"I blieve I will hev another, thank y'. I was so busy 
talkin' I forgot t' taste that last one/' 

He was always polite to cooks. And if anything struck 
his fancy at the table he was quick to say so. In contrast, 
some of the other farmers of the region stolidly ate 
whatever was set before them without comment. The 
wife of one of them observed earnestly to Gram one day: 

"Even a little grumblin' would be comfortin'." 

Cramp's father was an expert woodsman. Six feet, two 
inches tall, he was tireless in the forest, able to fell trees 



from dawn to dusk day after day. He came west to In- 
diana with his four motherless children because he heard 
the forests were being cleared around the southern end 
of Lake Michigan. Hardly had he settled there when one 
disaster after another overwhelmed him. In a sawmill ac- 
cident his left hand was severed at the wrist. No longer 
able to chop down trees, he still worked in the woods. 
Using his right arm alone, he split logs into cordwood. To 
help in this work he kept his axe ground almost to razor 
sharpness. One winter day of bitter cold this axe glanced 
on a piece of hard hickory. The blade buried itself just 
below his left knee. Never again was he able to walk. 

In so short a time he was reduced from a giant who 
never tired to a one-handed cripple dragging himself 
about on crutches. But even then he continued working 
with trees. He planted an apple orchard. He began ex- 
perimenting with grafting. People in the 1870's drove 
for many miles to see one of his trees with sweet apples 
growing on one side and sour apples on the other. His 
were the first grafted trees of the dune country. Another 
feature of his orchard famous in pioneer times was his 
Twenty-Ounce Pippin. It never produced an apple that 
weighed less than a pound. 

In consequence of the misfortunes that befell his 
father, Gramp began working as a hired hand on a farm 
when he was about twelve years old. His wages were 
eight dollars a month. Seventy years later he could re- 
call one of his first days at the home of his employer. 

The man called to his dog: 


"Come here!" 

The dog sat still. 

"Come here, I telly!" 

The dog got up, stretched, ambled away in the oppo- 
site direction. 

"Go on over there!" the man shouted after him. "I will 
hev y* mind!" 

In the dune country, when I was young, there was a 
number of German and Polish farmers who had recently 
come to America. Their knowledge of English was often 
scanty. When Gramp spoke to one of these neighbors, we 
noticed, he always talked extra loud. For years a first 
English sentence of one of these newcomers remained a 
saying in the dunes. It was: 

"Nobody so good like I." 

Because of the different nationalities that emigrated 
to the region, it became a kind of melting pot of Old 
World superstitions. I have recalled some of these odd 
beliefs in a previous chapter. Others were just as widely 
held. A dropped pin, for example, was often examined 
closely. If it pointed toward the finder it meant good 
luck was on the way. For rheumatism the thing to do was 
to carry a small potato in a coat pocket. As the potato 
dried and shriveled, rheumatic pains would disappear. 
Hair combed out by women was supposed to be dis- 
carded where birds would not find it. For if such strands 
were woven into a nest, it was thought, the original 
owner would suffer from headaches until the young birds 
had flown away. Two other superstitions of the time no 



doubt aided in the disposal of burned toast and in get- 
ting daughters up and at work early in the morning. 
These were the beliefs that aids to a fine complexion 
were eating charred toast and washing the face in the 
earliest dew of dawn. 

Distinct from these superstitions of her neighbors were 
the innumerable home remedies I remember Gram used 
in times of illness. Whenever I developed a sore throat 
she bound around my neck, inside a strip of flannel, a 
piece of salt pork sprinkled with pepper. My chest colds 
were met with a generous poultice of hot fried onions. 
My burns received first the white of an egg, then a coat- 
ing of lard, followed later by an application of flour. In 
early days before my time, quinine was swallowed in 
quantity every summer to combat the ague. To speed it 
on its way the white powder was often placed between 
bits of the bark of slippery elm. And when Gram's eyes 
became inflamed from the sun or from reading she 
sought relief in a soothing poultice of wet tea leaves. 

As I run back over these random memories stirred to 
life by Cramp's worn gold watch lying beside me, it oc- 
curs to me that I have never given proper recognition 
to an important influence in those early days. This is 
the card game of "Authors/' We played it often when I 
was small. Pictures on the cards of Emerson, Scott, Poe 
and Wordsworth, and, even more, the scenes relating to 
their masterpieces, became indelibly imprinted on my 
mind. The wild glens of Scotland, the Lake Country of 
Wordsworth, a lonely seashore illustrating one of Foe's 


poems these I still remember. The lasting curiosity 
they aroused played a part, no doubt, in making books 
so important an element in my later life. 

It is now a cause of considerable regret that nobody 
ever wrote down all the stories Gram made up and told 
in the dusk or dark when she put the children to bed. 
One tale, now but a vaguely remembered delight of long 
ago, continued like a serial story night after night. In this 
imaginary account the central character was the squirrel 
that buried the acorn that produced the great Lone Oak 




"HE'D skin a flea fer its hide an* tallow!" 

Thus Gramp sometimes described three or four of the 
tighter-fisted inhabitants of the dune country. In those 
days when hard cash was scarce and paper currency was 
even scarcer, pennies were watched in all the farmhouses 
of the region. But they were watched more closely in 
some than in others. 

In the homes of the flea-skinners postage stamps, for 
example, always came in for a special scrutiny. 

"I al'ays say t' my girls/' a neighbor confided to Gram, 
"never t' write t' any young feller who won't pay th' 


postage. He ain't serious." 

Once Gramp and I started early for town in the cracker 
wagon. As usual, he called: 

"All aboard, Edwin if y can't get a board git a 

Half way to Michigan City he pulled up to pass the 
time of day with the owner of a large farm. As he was 
clucking to Deck and Colty and we were starting off 
again the farmer's wife asked him to mail a letter to her 
mother in South Dakota. 

"Look at that!" the farmer exclaimed. "Another letter! 
Another stamp! She writes t' her folks an' says: 'We're 
all well. Hope you're th' same.' A week later they write 
back: 'So glad you're all well. We are too. Write again 
soon.' An' then right off th' bat she writes another letter 
an' starts the whole blamed thing all over again. Be sure 
to write soon! It's a plumb waste o' money!" 

A far greater menace than postage stamps, however, 
was posed by the insatiable appetites of the hired men. 

"T' hear old Billy talk," Gramp once reported as we 
were sitting down to supper, "you'd think his hired men 
had all lost their appetites an' found the appetites o' 

Battles and skirmishes, ruses and flank movements 
were engaged in at the tables of the flea-skinners. In one 
house fresh bread appeared on the table only at the very 
end of a meal. Then it was left out to dry and so become 
less palatable before the next meal At another place the 
consumption of butter was greatly reduced by the in- 



genuity of the housewife. Each day she carefully molded 
it into a round ball. Then just before she set it on the 
table she heated the plate so the butter would skid and 
roll when anyone tried to cut off a piece. This scheme 
worked until a new hired man appeared. After politely 
chasing the butter around the plate with his table knife, 
he stood up, reached into his back pocket and said: 

"Here's a knife that ain't never ashamed!" 

With that he opened the blade of a huge jackknife, 
speared the ball and held it down while he sliced off a 
generous chunk. 

Sometimes in the dunes the same household would 
contain one easy-going person and one driver. A hundred 
times the same exchange occurred between two brothers 
on a farm a mile or so from Lone Oak. 

"Ill have no idle flesh around me!" the driver-brother 
would shout. 

"My sweat," the easy-going brother would reply, "is 
worth a dollar a drop." 

On our way to Michigan City Gramp would sometimes 
point out the house of "the man who threw his hat in 
the kitchen door." He had married a wife from the other 
side of Burdick. She was the high-tempered driver of 
the family. In time it became his habit to discover storm 
signals by standing outside the kitchen and throwing his 
hat inside. If it didn't come flying out again, it was safe 
for him to go in. 

How money was spent, or not spent, was a favorite 
topic around the stove at Lewrey's Store. Over and over 


again the tale was told of the young man who came back 
to Furnessville after working for a year in Chicago. He 
climbed down from the train, resplendent in a scarlet 
necktie. He casually pulled from his pocket a ten-dollar 
bill. He rolled it up, ignited one end, lit his cigar with 
it and tossed the charred remnant away. It was the ges- 
ture of a lifetime. And it was the only thing he was re- 
membered for during a generation of dune-country life. 

Then there was Lew Payne and his licorice. 

Lew had come west in the Fifties, arriving a few 
years before Gramp. His farm was just above the 
Furnessville station. Some of the promptness of the 
trains that came and went on schedule seemed to enter 
his makeup. Every Sunday night, precisely at seven 
o'clock, he and his wife would walk next door to visit 
Aunt Mary. Promptly on the dot of nine he would clap 
on his hat and they would start back along the path to 

His wife was noted all through the countryside as the 
first woman to have her wash on the line Monday morn- 
ings. In later years, as the frailties of age increased, she 
maintained tins distinction by dipping two clean sheets 
in water and hanging them out as soon as she arose. Then, 
with her reputation secure, she could go on with her 
regular washing at leisure. A second characteristic of 
her daily life was her promptness in washing dishes. Her 
repeated assertion was: 

"I can't abide a dirty dish.** 

So, even when there was company, the dishes would 



be whisked away from under the noses of the visitors as 
soon as they had taken their last bites. Sometimes they 
would still be chewing when the clatter of washing 
dishes would arise from the kitchen. 

Lew Payne was the proud possessor of the longest 
white beard in the dune country. He used to stroke it 
meditatively as he related how, when he was fifteen 
years old, he went to Valparaiso with his first month's 
salary in his pocket. For half a day he walked up and 
down the streets looking in the store windows. He 
couldn't decide what to get. Finally he went into a drug- 
store and bought five dollars' worth of licorice. 

"An' fer a fact/' he used to end his recital, "I never 
really cared much fer licorice since/' 

In money matters Gramp had only one peculiarity. At 
the end of each month, when he stopped at Lewrey's 
Store to settle up his bill, he would invariably leave a 
small amount unpaid. As long as he lived at Lone Oak, 
*in spite of all of Gram's remonstrances and cajolery, even 
at harvest time when he was his wealthiest, he always left 
a little indebtedness on the books. 

"Why in heaven's name," Gram would demand indig- 
nantly, "don't y' pay it all? Then y won't owe anybody 

"Nope/' I would always hear Gramp reply, "Ez long 
ez I owe a little, I git better service." 




FAR from Lone Oak in space and in time, on a recent 
day in the New York Public Library, I opened the bound 
volume of a long-defunct magazine. Forty-four years 
had passed since that stormy afternoon when I helped 
anchor down the flying boat on the Michigan City beach. 
Yet the scene returned, each detail vivid. For in this 
aging publication I came upon recollections of that first 
air-and-water race set down by the owner of the winged 
boat, J. B. R. VerpIancL 

He recalled flying through the smoke of the Gary steel 
mills and coming out into the wonderful air of the dunes. 



It was rich with the scent of sweet ferns or "a sort of 
Indiana heather." Welcomed by an enormous crowd 
and a white flag waved vigorously, he and Beckwith 
Havens landed at Michigan City. "The storm that had 
been threatening all afternoon/' he wrote, "broke on us 
with terrific fury. The beach was cleared in an instant 
and we began the fight of our lives to keep the old boat 
from starting on a cruise over the sand dunes. At first we 
had two volunteers. But after getting soaked they re- 
signed in favor of one small boy" 

Those italics are here contributed, so many years later, 
by that same "one small boy." 

Not long after Dune Boy was first published in the 
war-year of 1943, I received a note from Beckwith 
Havens. A relative had given him the book for Christmas. 
At the time he was in charge of a naval flying school on 
Long Island and he invited me to spend a Sunday after- 
noon with him. I found him a slender, handsome man 
with graying hair. As we talked he recalled some of the 
adventures of the race after the dunes had been left 

Once, beyond the Straits of Mackinac, rain began 
falling from low-hanging clouds. Verplanck, who had 
been studying a map outspread on his knees, crawled 
into the nose of the flying boat to keep dry. Havens 
pulled back the wheel and climbed up through the 
clouds into brilliant sunshine above. He rapped on the 
hull and Verplanck came out. Just as they began to en- 
joy the beauty of the cloudscape around them the engine 


stopped. Fuel was gone. Down they went into the clouds 
again, descending in a steep glide. They were uncertain 
whether land or water lay below them. Bursting out of 
the vapor they found themselves above the lake a mile 
or so from shore. With the aid of a paddle, Havens 
worked the craft to the beach and then started on a ten- 
mile hike for gasoline. 

In addition to its mention of the sky race in which he 
had participated, Havens found another particular link 
with my book. He, too, as a small boy, had known free- 
dom and escape from town on his grandfather's farm. It 
lay up the Hudson River from New York City. There, 
too, just as at Lone Oak, that happy period came to an 
end when the old farmhouse burned to the ground. 

A year or two before Dune Boy was written, I was 
driving back to the Lone Oak region when I stopped for 
lunch at La Porte. In the telephone book I came, by a 
lucky chance, upon the name "Verne Bradfield." The 
Verne I had known had been lost track of soon after he 
moved to Sunbury, Ohio, in 1910. 1 had heard indirectly 
that he had been killed in the First World War. But 
the name was so unusual I dropped a note to the La Porte 
Verne. He was indeed my boyhood friend. Later I 
stopped to see him. After so many years, we re-lived for 
an hour or two all the innumerable small adventures of 
our Lone Oak days. At the time he was working in a New 
York Central mail-car running between Chicago and 
Cleveland. Dewey Gunder, my other boyhood compan- 
ion, is also a railroad man, the engineer of a crack Michi- 



gan Central express on the Detroit-Chicago run. 

One way, I have discovered, to learn more about the 
events of your childhood is to write a book about them. 
People from as far away as California wrote in sending 
their recollections of the dune country or their remem- 
brances of the Ways. One reader invited me to visit his 
home in Glengarry, Idaho, 2,000 miles away. Another 
wanted me to attend a party in a Riverside Drive apart- 
ment and tell the story of the mouse pelts to one of her 
guests, a Fifth Avenue furrier. A United States Senator 
wrote that during vacations in the dunes he used to read 
the book aloud to his young daughter. And the man who 
was, at one time, head of all the subways in New York 
City recalled that he had been the dispatcher in the 
"lighted brick tower" at Michigan City about the time 
Smith Hill was killed. 

After an Armed Services Edition of more than 100,000 
copies of the book had been distributed during the war, 
I heard from many men who had read it amid strange 
surroundings. One had been riding a bomber being fer- 
ried to England. Another had been resting in a small 
Burma village after a battle. A third had been sitting in 
a castle on the Bliine. A fourth had been sweating in the 
jungles of a South Pacific island where Seabees were 
building an airstrip. 

But, in some ways, the person who followed the story 
under the most unusual circumstances of all was a six- 
year-old boy. His mother gave him the book for Christ- 
mas. Together they read it in the very house where Verne 


Bradfield had lived, across the road from Lone Oak. And 
as they came to each successive chapter they visited the 
exact spots mentioned the North Woods, the spring, 
The Island, the old apple orchard, the lower field where 
The Dragonette flew. 

Another reader who visited the actual places men- 
tioned in the book lived in Wilmette, Illinois. He wrote 
that he had typed out a list of every place and every per- 
son mentioned in Dune Boy. Carrying it in the glove 
compartment of his car, he drove across the Indiana line 
each weekend. He followed the back-country roads. He 
talked with local residents. He compared the names on 
tombstones in country cemeteries with those on his list 
Thus, making trip after trip, he narrowed down the area 
until he located The Island, the spring, the foundation 
bricks of the farmhouse and the old cedar tree close to 
the spot where the gate once stood. 

The first time I returned to the dunes after the book 
appeared I found I had received no small honor: a dog 
had been named after me. The operator of the Wilson 
Shelter Canteen in the Indiana Dunes State Park had 
come upon a half-starved puppy on one of the trails. He 
fed it and took it home. When he sought a name for it he 
remembered a book he had just been reading. He called 
it Dune Boy. 

As I look back on my early years I know that my boy- 
hood was not, as boyhood is supposed to be, the happiest 
time of my life. But all the days at Lone Oak were like 
golden islands in a stormy sea. So they appeared then. 



So they seem now. Each memory of them might well 
begin: "Once upon a wonderful time . . /* 

My last Lone Oak return a century after Gramp 
came west, forty years after the farmhouse burned, a 
dozen years after Dune Boy first appeared in print oc- 
curred two springs ago as this is written. 

I found the land of the dunes today is something of a 
paradox. As many as 10,000 persons come to the lake 
shore of the Indiana Dunes State Park on a Fourth of 
July. Yet in the region around foxes have come back and 
even deer are occasionally seen. Great superhighways 
now carry their rivers of traffic to the north and south of 
Lone Oak. Yet its immediate surroundings lie in a kind 
of quiet backwater. There are changes, of course. But 
curiously it is less the change than the lack of change that 
is impressive. 

The country road is still dusty, still narrow, still wind- 
ing. The houses where Dewey and Verne once lived are 
almost unchanged. Years of cutting have thinned the 
North Woods and I hunted in vain for the mossy hollow 
where the wintergreens once grew. But to the south the 
Pere Marquette Railroad formed the same stable land- 
mark bordered by the same ditches where Dewey and I 
once caught crayfish and dined on their tails boiled over 
a campfire in a blackened tin-can. 

And so, that day, I came once more to the old cedar 
tree. Always when I return to the dunes I examine this 
one tree closely. I note the changes of the years as one 
views a failing friend with affectionate concern. Half 


way to the top now the trunk was smoothly bare. A few of 
the upper twigs appeared lifeless and dry. But over most 
of its topmost limbs the tree still remained darkly, richly 
green. Before I left I gazed for a long time at those en- 
during branches. Each was a living link with remem- 
bered days. Each was a symbol of my long farewell to 
Lone Oak. 



Jemima Way sewing on a quilt. At the time this photo- 
graph was made Gram was in her eighty-second year. 

The author with a tandem glider built in 1912. 

The hayfield where The Dragonette flew. 

The old farmhouse at Lone Oak. This was one of the first pic- 
tures taken with the box camera earned by picking strawberries. 

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The Lone Oak spring below the spot where the barn once stood. 
This picture was taken forty years after the farmhouse burned. 

The Ways of Furnessville. Gramp and Gram 
as they appeared in their late-seventies. 

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